Day: July 8, 2021

Stop using children for your big government political goals

If you want to make an argument on policy grounds, make it with the help of facts and coherent policy arguments.

France and Belgium are seeing thousands in the streets for both the Yellow Vest and environmentalist causes. The reality is that these two groups don’t go together, because while the Yellow Vests express the concerns of real-life working people, the climate protesters are fuelled by the questionable orchestration of youth activists.

The generational divide of both protests

The Yellow Vest movement, now in its third month of protest activity, has riled up low-income and lower middle class workers against the fiscal policies of French president Emmanuel Macron. The same is true in Belgium, which has very large fiscal burdens, including on people with limited incomes. The “Gilets jaunes” movement was sparked by increases in fuel taxes by the government, which is trying to respect promises made at the Paris Climate Accord in 2015. After a number of overwhelmingly large and aggressive protests, president Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe dropped the plans for tax increases.

Meanwhile, France and Belgium are seeing the phenomenon of young people demonstrating at the “March pour le climat” (“March for Climate”). They are demanding the fight against climate change become a key component of government policy in both countries. As someone who has lived in Brussels, I wonder what more the activists would have the government do in addition to the current strict regulations on recycling, highly subsidised public transport, carbon taxes, expensive fuel, expensive heating prices, and subsidies for the construction of passive houses. Any new suggested measures would inevitably increase spending or the level of taxes that individuals will have to pay. After all, carbon taxes are nothing but indirect taxes on consumers.

This will reignite the opposition of the Yellow Vests, who rightfully see fiscal oppression of consumers through climate change action. What is the cause of  such a disconnect? A striking difference is the age discrepancy between both groups of protesters. The Yellow Vests express the concerns of purchasing power of working adults, while the climate change protests are composed of young people being riled up by the media or their parents against what they perceive to be the polluting elite.

Media imagery

During a youth climate protest in Brussels in 2019, 35,000 youngsters showed up, demanding more “climate action.” At the latest Climate March in Brussels, there were a large number of  children carrying signs asking for myriad regulations to reduce carbon emissions.

In response, the Flemish separatist politician Theo Francken posted  the following on Facebook (translated):

“Dad where is my phone?

– Gone.

When do we go skiing?

– Never.

Where will we go on holidays this year?

– We’ll stay home.

Does the heating work?

– Yes, it goes to 18°C.

Can you drive me to football practice?

– You can cycle.

Dad, why are you doing this?

– You convinced me that something needs to be done about the climate.”

Herein lies the truth behind climate change activism: nobody wants to foot the bill. Even more disturbing, and clearly falling into the category of creepy politicisation of the young, is how the media coverage of the protest has evolved. News outlets are happy to exploit youth engagement for the purpose of underlining the importance of climate action.

Slate France writes, “The children of the world are attacking their governments. And it works!“, DH Belgium quotes 4 year-old children saying “we are hotter [for this protest] than the climate”, Le Vif calls the activism “magnificent”. The New York Times calls the protest “a shame for the city where the European Union fixes European Climate Policy”, while the BBC uncritically reports that children were being brought by their own parents in an effort not to miss school.

After recent protests, Belgian news site Het Laatste Nieuws (HLN) gives us “the highlights” seen at climate rallies. In the photo below, visibly underage girls hold signs that would be unimaginable for rallies other than those supporting approved narratives.

The same goes for the activism of 16 year-old Greta Thunberg, who is currently at the center of youth climate protests. Even the World Economic Forum posts a video with her to their Twitter account, without any pushback on the policy proposals she makes:https://twitter.com/wef/status/1087956623358914560

Children are the easy targets of big government advocates

The crux of the issue is this: 16-year-old Greta is a great symbol  for those at the World Economic Forum whoargue for even more taxes on companies, as well as new and higher carbon taxes. The European Union is also more than content to tolerate children’s protests in the heart of Brussels because it drums up support for the introduction of new carbon taxes on an EU-wide level. And when these children grow old and start to work themselves, they will discover that the digital taxes reduced companies’ margins, causing an increase in prices, and that all the different carbon taxes were designed to make a large number of goods unavailable. Reality will hit hard, and, as with the example of the Yellow Vests, it might hit those in power even harder.

If you want to make an argument on policy grounds, make it with the help of facts and coherent policy arguments, not with the guilt-inducing face of a 4-year-old who doesn’t truly understand for what he or she is arguing, nor by primary and secondary school students who enjoyed their day off yelling in the streets before their mother picked them up in an SUV.

Originally published here.

Resilience: Prepping for the next virus

Looking at the history of viruses, we would be negligent to think that we can relax and stop worrying about viruses by overcoming the current pandemic

Novel viruses emerge regularly and, in some cases, make it into the human body and potentially causing harm to our health. HIV, Ebola, and SARS were and are just a few new viral threats in the last four decades.

Research on treating the diseases they cause or even finding a vaccine against them has been slow but recently more promising.

Traditionally, it took a few decades from identifying a virus to have an effective vaccine ready to be administered. As an example: Over three decades and $500 billion had to be spent to get close to curing HIV.

All of this dramatically changed with Covid-19.

While Covid-19 poses one of the most devastating public health challenges globally, scientists broke records by finding (multiple) effective vaccines against it within sometimes days and not decades. So while the coranavirus took countless lives, placed billions of people into lockdown, and the global economy in turmoil, there’s a silver lining given the pace of biotechnological innovations protecting us from this threat.

Health systems have several tools on hand to combat a viral threat: Using masks, disinfecting surfaces, social distancing, or applying existing drug treatments to new viruses. But when it comes to creating a general immunity among the population, there’s only one alternative to a large proportion of the population contracting the virus: mass vaccinations.

Thanks to massive advances in gene-editing technology and a deeper understanding of how to utilise messenger RNA to teach the human body to fight viruses, companies like Moderna and BioNTech developed their highly effective vaccines within days. This breakthrough came definitely at the right time and might have reduced the severity and shortened the duration of the pandemic by a significant factor.

Looking at the history of viruses, we would be negligent to think that we can relax and stop worrying about viruses by overcoming the current pandemic. On the contrary, we should utilise the lessons learned in the last year-and-a-half and tweak our regulatory approach to biotech innovations so that these vaccines can make it to patients even faster.

While it took Moderna merely 48 hours to come up with a vaccine, still, it took ten months of regulatory approvals, clinical trials, and other bureaucratic hurdles to overcome before their vaccine could get administered to regular patients. If we look at the lives lost, psychological isolation of people in lockdown, and the economic costs of each day, week, and month between discovering a vaccine and its authorisation, we should ensure to streamline this process as much as possible.

Most existing regulatory frameworks are built on the assumption that it takes at least a decade to develop a vaccine and hence not made for fast and computer simulation-supported development of mRNA vaccines.

A more agile framework would give AI tools and computer predictions a more prominent role to shorten clinical trials. It would also embrace global reciprocity: If one reputable authorisation body has greenlighted a vaccine, patients in other countries should automatically get access to it as well. 

The UAE has recently shown that it approves some of the most innovative medical products as fast or even more quickly than the European Union or the United States.

Reciprocity in vaccine approval facilitates healthy competition among medicines agencies across the world in which pharmaceutical companies run trials and seek approval in those jurisdictions that embrace this agile approach.

Agencies that miss out on this will see fewer trials run in their countries and lose out on attractive biotech investments in their region. Smart regulation will not only create new and booming biotech clusters but also, and even more importantly, allow us to overcome the next pandemic within months and not years. Millions of lives could be saved and billions if not trillions of economic output secured.

Preparing for the next pandemic means developing and embracing a regulatory toolkit that gives as many vaccine developers and manufacturers the air to breathe they need to get these relatively inexpensive lifesavers to the people. The UAE should be at the forefront of this and embrace the most agile vaccine approval framework.

Originally published here.

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