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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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A nurse takes care of a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit in Germany. Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

A new UN report on human development makes the case that our species faces a dire future of our own making.

The big picture: The COVID-19 pandemic — which emerged from nature but is in every other way a human-made catastrophe — is the most recent signal that we are firmly in the Anthropocene, a new epoch in which human beings are the most powerful force on the Earth. What comes next is on us.

What's happening: The 2020 Human Development Report — published earlier this week — marks the 30th year the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has assessed the holistic state of humanity.

  • The short version: it's not good, as COVID-19 illustrates the pressures we've put on the planet — pressures that have "grown exponentially over the past 100 years," as UNDP administrator Achim Steiner writes.
  • Beyond the direct costs of the pandemic, COVID-19 has thrown human development into reverse, with social mobility declining and social instability rising.
  • Climate change — the clearest and biggest challenge posed by the Anthropocene — continued its acceleration, with 2020 likely to go down as the hottest year on record.

Of note: The peril and the promise of the Anthropocene are seen most clearly in the case of existential risks, those catastrophic dangers that threaten the future of human civilization.

  • While we've always faced rare but potent cosmic threats like asteroids, today "the dominant risks to its survival come from humanity itself," writes existential risk scholar Toby Ord in the report.
  • But the same power that poses existential risks in the form of nuclear war or bioengineered pandemics means that "humanity’s future is largely within humanity’s control" — provided we're willing to take those risks more seriously than we have to date.

The bottom line: For better or for worse, we'll be the authors of our own future.

Go deeper

UN poll: Most see climate change as global emergency during pandemic

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) fronts a Fridays For Future protest at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm in September. Photo: Jonathan Nacksrtrand/AFP via Getty Images

64% of people from around the world say climate change is a global emergency, a UN poll published Wednesday finds.

Why it matters: It's the biggest global survey on climate change ever conducted, with some 1.2 million participants from 50 countries — including the U.S., where 65% of those surveyed view climate change as an emergency.

CDC says fully vaccinated people don't have to wear masks indoors

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Erin Clark-Pool/Getty Images

The CDC announced in new guidance Thursday that anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, regardless of crowd size.

What they're saying: "If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected, and you can start doing the things that you stopped doing because of the pandemic," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will say at a White House press briefing.

Colonial Pipeline reportedly paid hackers nearly $5 million in ransom

Photo: Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

Colonial Pipeline paid hackers linked to the DarkSide cybercrime group nearly $5 million in cryptocurrency after last week's ransomware attack, Bloomberg first reported and the New York Times confirmed.

Why it matters: The breach of the largest refined fuels pipeline in the U.S. triggered new concerns about the vulnerability of the country's increasingly digitized energy systems.

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