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Wildfires in Chile Wiped Out Entire Neighborhoods, Except this One Protected by a Community Fireproofing Program


Tuesday, February 13th, 2024


Today’s newsletter is: 919 words; 4 min.


Former President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court to block a ruling rejecting his absolute immunity claim. The Court has several options it can take with Trump’s appeal, including the ability to either hear it quickly or delay it until after the 2024 election.

A shooter at Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston opened fire before she was killed by off-duty law enforcement working as security. Police said the shooter – whose 7-year-old son was critically injured in the shooting – used an AR-15 with a “Palestine” sticker on it and the phrase “Free Palestine” written on the gun.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said the House is unlikely to consider the national security bill set to pass the Senate this week. Johnson, without a shred of irony or self-awareness, criticized…wait for it…the lack of border security in the bill. You know, like the border security legislation we all watched his caucus kill for Trump last week.

A federal judge ordered Elon Musk to comply with a Securities and Exchange Commission subpoena and testify in the agency’s investigation into his Twitter purchase. Musk has spent months dodging the subpoena and falsely claiming the SEC lacked authority to investigate whether he violated federal securities laws during the purchase.


A new report found at least 85 journalists have been killed in Gaza since October 7


At Least 85 Journalists Have Died in Gaza

A new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists shows at least 85 journalists and media members have been killed in Gaza since the October 7 attack by Hamas, including 78 who are Palestinian journalists. 

  • Why it matters: The number of journalists killed in Gaza since October 7 is already more than the total number killed around the world in all of 2022 (69) and in the entire two-decade conflict in Afghanistan (76). The rate of journalists killed each day in Gaza is also around 10x higher than that of the wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. 



A new survey found less than half of Americans are “very satisfied” with their lives


Less than Half of Americans Report Being “Very Satisfied” with Their Lives

A new survey by Gallup found 47% of U.S. adults say they’re “very satisfied” with their lives, down three percentage points over the past year and only one point higher than the record low measured in 2011.

  • Why it matters: It’s only the third time in the past two decades of Gallup asking the question that less than half of Americans expressed high satisfaction with their lives.



A new study found quitting smoking at any age leads to huge gains in life expectancy


Quitting Smoking at Any Age Leads to Huge Gains in Life Expectancy

A new study by researchers at the University of Toronto in Canada found smokers who quit before age 40 can expect to live nearly as long as those who never smoked, and those who quit at any age return close to never-smoker survival around 10 years after quitting, with around half of that benefit happening within just three years. The study included 1.5 million adults in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Norway.

  • Why it matters: The researchers found smokers between ages 40 and 79 had a nearly three-fold risk of dying compared to never smokers, meaning they lost about 12 to 13 years of life, on average.


The neighborhood of Botania in Chile survived the deadly wildfires thanks to a community fireproofing program

Sebastian Helena

Wildfires in Chile Wiped Out Entire Neighborhoods, Except this One Protected by a Community Fireproofing Program

A series of wildfires ripped through Chile earlier this month, killing at least 131 people and leaving thousands more injured in what could be the country’s deadliest wildfires on record. 

  • To put the death toll (which will almost certainly increase over the coming weeks) in context, the August 2023 wildfire in Maui killed 100 people, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.

The wildfires in Chile also destroyed thousands of homes in the coastal Valparaíso region, including several near the hilltop neighborhood of Botania (pictured above).

  • Botania itself, however, emerged unscathed, with all 80 or so homes remaining undamaged.

What happened:

Botania owes its survival to a dogged fire prevention program launched by Chilean forestry officials and a local nongovernmental organization, supported by funding from the U.S. government.

  • Using around $20,000 in funding from USAID, community leaders spent months managing waste and controlling vegetation to starve any future wildfires of the fuel they require.

  • Chilean officials estimate around 70% of the region’s destroyed homes were in irregular settlements with poor vegetation management and trash-filled streets. 

Why it matters:

Experts say natural disasters, while devastating, are also valuable learning opportunities, and the survival of Botania thanks to a fairly simple community fireproofing program demonstrates that climate-related hazards don’t always have to spell human disaster.


  • 231,072 tons - The amount of plastic bag waste discarded in California in 2022, a 47% increase from the amount discarded in 2014, the year lawmakers banned single-use plastic bags in the state. The problem stems from a section of the law allowing retailers to offer thicker, heavier, less recyclable bags to consumers for 10 cents.   

  • 123.4 million - The number of people who watched Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, making it the most-watched Super Bowl of all time and the largest television event since the Moon landing, according to new data from Nielsen.


Long Video. Are we living through the end of Google Search’s dominance? (11 min)

Short Video. Here’s how the U.S. transports its nuclear weapons. (7 min)

Fun Video. Check out this year’s most talked about Super Bowl ads.

Good Read. A quick read on how marine mammals sleep underwater. (707 words; 3 min)

Neat List. Check out some of the winners of the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards.


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Written by Ryan Wittler