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“The Raccoon Feast,” a photograph by Claire Rosen, from the series Fantastical Feasts © The artist. Courtesy Foto Relevance, Houston

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Ninety-six percent of mammalian extinctions in the past hundred thousand years were attributable to humans. Even as CO2 emissions fell during lockdowns, atmospheric concentrations continued to rise. The Greenland ice sheet, whose melting last year exceeded the previous record by 15 percent, was found to have entered “a constant state of loss.” The rate of Arctic sea-ice melt in recent decades has either exceeded predictions or matched worst-case scenarios, though large-scale river dams have slowed global sea-level rise. A survey determined that only 6.5 percent of the world’s most ecologically valuable tropical forests are formally protected, and current climate models can explain neither the speed nor the pattern by which certain parts of the tropics are expanding. The highest reliably measured temperature in history was recorded in Death Valley. Urban air pollution was driving energy consumption, leading to even greater levels of air pollution, which in turn was driving antibiotic resistance. An interdisciplinary team posited that energy efficiency will not save civilization, as it simply allows for more efficient economic growth.

Tiehm’s buckwheat may prevent the construction of the first American lithium mine, in Nevada; the presence of lithium in drinking water lowers suicide rates; living at high elevation in the American West predicts a “frontier” personality; adult ADHD predicts car crashes; and wind weakens St. Elmo’s fire on airplanes. Scientists probed equatorial cold-tongue biases, and blamed the difficulty of predicting El Niño’s North American Januaries on Tibet, where large foraminifera were found to have been more vulnerable than small ones during the extinction pulses of the early Jurassic. Sunburned plant spores from the Devonian–Carboniferous boundary suggest that the Late Devonian extinction may have been caused by radiation from a supernova. Two time crystals created by physicists began interacting and exchanging particles.

A preserved embryo confirmed the presence of nose horns among titanosaur hatchlings. Archaeologists near Stonehenge, where acoustics favor listeners in the inner circle, found a flute made from a human thigh bone. The earliest known Near Eastern cremation, of a young person with moderate arthritis and a fragment of flint lodged in the sinister scapular spine, was dated to around 7000 bc. Tooth cementum indicated increased stress among Balkan women during the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition, and a calcified lung nodule of Bishop Peder Winstrup of Lund supported the theory that tuberculosis emerged in the New Stone Age. The vast suburban homes of boomers and Gen X-ers were forecast to become unsellable. Casual observers can identify photos of white men and women convicted of crimes and of priests convicted of sexually abusing children because their faces, compared with controls, are manifestly unhappy. Teens today can accurately classify teens in video interviews from 2006 as “anime/mangas,” “druggies/stoners,” “emo/goths,” “fine arts,” “jocks,” “loners,” “populars,” “smarts,” and “troublemakers.” College students’ word choice in describing marijuana intoxication follows a progression of impairment from “nice” to “high” to “happy” to “hungry” to “stoned” to “baked” to “paranoid.” Eighty-eight percent of opioid-induced deafness cases involve a single exposure. Bone-fracture patients who received positive daily affirmations from a chatbot used 37 percent fewer opioid pills. Neurologists gave macaques reversible brain damage. Recent American recipients of Chinese mystery seeds, contrary to government warnings, planted them. Other Americans ate them.

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November 2020