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Australia Burns Again — and Now, Its Biggest City Is Choking



SYDNEY, Australia — Flying into Sydney usually brings stunning views of rocky cliffs and crystal waters, but when Anna Funder looked out the window before landing this week, she saw only tragedy.

Thick gray smoke blanketed the skyline and the coast, stretching for miles from the fire front at the southwestern edge of the city, where dried-out forests have been burning for weeks.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Ms. Funder, an award-winning Australian novelist known for stories of cruelty and resistance. “It was this huge and terrible seam of white smoke coming up from the ground beyond which the rest of the continent — where I was headed, where my home is — was invisible.

“It was as if the country were being devoured by a chemical reaction.”

Sydney, nicknamed the “Emerald City” for its subtropical beauty, is struggling with a summer of choking smoke. Bush fires raging to the north, south and west since early November have pushed smoke and ash not just into neighborhoods abutting the blazes, but all the way to coastal suburbs more than 50 miles away.

All of us who live here can taste the fire and feel it in our throats. Asthmatics are showing up in emergency rooms in greater numbers. Schools are canceling sports and recess. In houses built to be open to the elements, people are taping their windows shut; there have even been reports of fire alarms in office buildings set off by the smoke from miles away.

And the impact of this year’s wildfire season, which began much earlier than usual, goes beyond the physical. Rising levels of angst and anger are emerging all over Sydney, spreading like the haze.

On social media, the sharing of images of #sydneysmoke in its many shades, from orange to gray, has become a regular feature of people’s morning routines.

State officials have warned of the dangers. The New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage said that “our network has recorded some of the highest air pollution ever seen” in the state.

In November, the department recorded 15 days of poor air quality, far beyond the monthly norm. On Monday, the levels of PM2.5, the most harmful form of pollutant, were 22 times the accepted safety level — the equivalent of smoking more than a pack of cigarettes a day. Pollution levels were expected to reach similar heights on Friday.

Even compared to the terrible fire seasons of 1994 and 2001, “this event,” state officials said, “is the longest and the most widespread in our records.”

With fires also raging in the state of Queensland, that means the pressure on Australia’s government is likely to intensify.

Climate protests have become more common. At rallies, longtime activists are increasingly being joined by newcomers like Emily Xu, a 13-year-old student who skipped school to attend a protest on Nov. 29 in downtown Sydney.

She and a handful of her friends, all in school uniforms, said it was their first rally, and that they had made the trek because the fires had suddenly made climate change’s threats more real for them.

“Before I was like, ‘Oh, if we don’t have coal we won’t make any money for our economy,’” said Ms. Xu. Now, she said, fires were approaching her house and her friends’ houses, making her less worried about the economy than about survival.

Ms. Funder, the novelist, said the failure to address climate change was especially hard for her three children, who are 10, 15 and 17, to understand.

“I can’t explain this to my children in a way that makes adults seem like sane, moral actors,” she said. “In this story, that’s not what we are. Although in every other way we try to look out for them and their future, in this story our failure is literally choking them, keeping them indoors at school.”

In some countries, such widespread environmental effects have led to changes in policy.

Activists angry about pollution in Mexico City pushed the government to impose tougher regulations for vehicle emissions. Many academics believe China’s quick pivot to renewables in recent years was a response to air pollution and citizens’ growing concerns about its impact.

In Australia, however — where the air in Sydney was ranked among the worst in the world last month — Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted.

“The response has been to double down on denialism,” said David Schlosberg, director of the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney.

Instead of addressing the public’s concerns, Mr. Morrison has suggested that some forms of protest should be outlawed, while refusing to meet with retired firefighters who have warned for months that more resources are desperately needed to battle the blazes.

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New History of Science Course Examines Harvard’s Move to Allston | News



As Harvard prepares for its move into Allston, a new History of Science course will allow students to document the history expansion as it unfolds.

The course — titled History of Science 191cu: “Harvard’s Changing Landscapes: A Contemporary History Project” — will focus on the University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences as it awaits its move to Allston. The seminar will be “project-based” and “designed to introduce students to the range of skills needed to research and document historical change while it is ‘in process,’” according to the course catalog.

The new SEAS complex is set to open in September 2020 in Allston and will likely house more than 1,800 researchers, students, and faculty.

The course will allow students to study SEAS on the eve of its move through project planning, background research, interview planning, audio recording, and editing.

Course instructor and History of Science lecturer David S. Unger said the idea for the class stemmed from his work as a historian in museums.

“I’ve worked on a number of documentation projects at various museums and now, as the Director of Administration for the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, I’d like to bring that kind of work here,” he said.

Unger also said that Harvard’s move to Allston offers a unique research opportunity for students to participate in a “real, practical project.” He said the goal of the course is “to collect oral histories and other documentation from SEAS.”

Information gathered by the students will be “part of a larger collecting initiative” and will become part of Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, according to the course description.

“I’m very interested in thinking about how the collection can actively collect objects and stories from things happening now,” Unger said.

In a statement, University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote that Harvard is “proud” of its presence in Allston more broadly.

“We are proud to be part of a vibrant innovative, artistic, and collaborative ecosystem that will change the region – and the world – in profound ways,” she said.

In previous years, Harvard’s expansion into Allston has invited significant pushback from the neighborhood’s residents. Still, O’Rourke wrote that Harvard’s work in the area will allow the University to continue to contribute to the community and to promote innovation in the area.

“This progress and thoughtful planning – together with Harvard’s commitment to community and being a good neighbor – are ensuring the Boston area remains at the forefront of teaching, learning, and research, and that it remains a place where people want to live, learn, work, and play,” she wrote.

The course has an enrollment limit of 15 students and will be offered in the upcoming spring semester.

— Staff writer Artea Brahaj can be reached at

— Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.

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Deadly Coronavirus Outbreak Poses a Test to China’s Leadership



The delay in reporting the spread of the disease was attributed to technological challenges, but also bureaucratic ones.

Some hospitals lacked testing kits, according to remarks on Monday by Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a prominent scientist who is leading a government-appointed panel of experts helping control the outbreak. The process was also slowed down, he said, because local hospitals were required to submit cases to the central health commission in Beijing for review before going public.

For weeks, the authorities in Wuhan seemed to play down the threat posed by the virus. The health department said that it had been found only in people who visited a local market that sold live fish, birds and other animals, and that workers had disinfected and shut down the site.

Questions have emerged on Chinese social media about whether the Chinese government has been forthcoming. Many articles and posts, including some using the hashtag #WuhanSARS, were censored.

After his stepmother died of viral pneumonia last week, Kyle Hui, 32, an architect from Shanghai, turned to Weibo, a Twitterlike site, to report her case. Mr. Hui’s stepmother was never formally tested for the virus, and he was concerned that the Wuhan government was underreporting cases of the illness. But his post soon disappeared from the internet.

“People accuse me of spreading rumors, but I’m just trying to tell my stepmother’s story,” he said in an interview at a cafe in Wuhan.

It was not until Monday that the government changed course, after news outlets in Hong Kong reported over the weekend that there were several potential cases of the illness in Shanghai and Shenzhen, a southern city. The central government dispatched Dr. Zhong, a renowned expert with a reputation for bluntness, to Wuhan.

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Bambuser Seeks $10.5M For Shopping Technology



Bambuser, the Swedish startup specializing in the live-streaming of shopping, wants to raise 100 million crowns ($10.5 million USD) to expand its service as it comes west, according to Reuters. The move comes via a rights issue to fund the expansion, and would have the effect of doubling share prices, though it would be from a low level.

The company launched a service last September that enables brands to offer live shopping on their own websites. Live shopping involves paid brand representatives talking on camera during a live broadcast, allowing viewers to interact with them and purchase the product being featured. Like similar live-streamers who film themselves playing video games in real time, the service has proved wildly popular.

In China, the trend is booming. For China’s Singles’ Day last November, about half of merchants on retail site Tmall used live-stream shopping, selling almost 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion USD) worth in goods, according to parent company Alibaba Group.

Bambuser said its new service will aim to be profitable within the next two years.

In a statement, the company said the rights issue would allow for the expansion of its operation within the sphere of live-video shopping. Bambuser noted that current shareholders had already agreed to sign up for a total of 52 million crowns.

Thus far, Bambuser has announced collaborations with some Nordic beauty and apparel companies for live-stream shopping. It had the distinction Monki, a brand of number-two worldwide fashion retailer H&M, making a broadcast via the service last year.

Recently, the company announced that it will be partnering with Italian online luxury fashion retailer LUISAVIAROMA. Following the announcement of the partnership last week, Bambuser shares rocketed to a double-digit gain within the same day.

On Monday (Jan. 20), Bambuser also announced that it was working with experts from China for strategic advice, which could signal its intent to move into the Chinese market that loves the services the company offers.

Facebook and Amazon have announced live-stream shopping features on their respective apps, and Snapchat is getting in on the game with a shopping function as well.


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