PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

The Big Sneeze: Climate Change to Ramp Up Pollen Season (Maria)

The author writes, “Climate change has already made allergy season longer and pollen counts higher, but you ain’t sneezed nothing yet. Climate scientists at the University of Michigan looked at 15 different plant pollens in the United States and used computer simulations to calculate how much worse allergy season will likely get by the year 2100. It’s enough to make allergy sufferers even more red-eyed. As the world warms, allergy season will start weeks earlier and end many days later — and it’ll be worse while it lasts, with pollen levels that could as much as triple in some places, according to a new study [published] Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.”

Putin’s Prewar Moves Against US Tech Giants Laid Groundwork for Crackdown on Free Expression (Russ)

The authors write, “Russian agents came to the home of Google’s top executive in Moscow to deliver a frightening ultimatum last September: take down an app that had drawn the ire of Russian President Vladimir Putin within 24 hours or be taken to prison. Google quickly moved the woman to a hotel where she checked in under an assumed name and might be protected by the presence of other guests and hotel security, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The same agents — believed by company officials to be from Russia’s FSB, a successor to the KGB intelligence service — then showed up at her room to tell her the clock was still ticking. Within hours, an app designed to help Russians register protest votes against Putin could no longer be downloaded from Google or Apple, whose main representative in Moscow faced a similarly harrowing sequence. Titans of American technology had been brought to their knees by some of the most primitive intimidation tactics in the Kremlin playbook.”

Ukraine War: Putin Seeks Foreign Volunteers to Fight in Ukraine (Aline)

The author writes, “Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for foreign volunteers to be able to fight against Ukrainian forces. Speaking at a Russian security council meeting, he said those who wanted to volunteer to fight with Russia-backed forces should be allowed to. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said there were 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East ready to fight alongside Russia-backed forces. US officials said these could include Syrians skilled in urban combat. Moscow is a long-standing ally of Syria and Mr. Putin has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war.”

The Field Report: What the Invasion of Ukraine Means for the Food Supply (Laura)

From Civil Eats: “At 4 a.m. on Tuesday, March 8, two World Central Kitchen (WCK) employees shared a video from Medyka, Poland, on the border of Ukraine. Temperatures were well below freezing as families, some of whom had been traveling for days, poured over the border. ‘We’ve been out all night serving hot potato and chicken stew to folks walking across,’ said a WCK worker identified as Dan, as refugees boarded buses in the background to continue their arduous journeys. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, more than 2 million people — half of them children — have fled their homes in search of safety. Now refugees, they’re in desperate need of food and water. At the same time, bombing has left tens of thousands of Ukrainians who remain in the country without food, water, or power to cook with. Homes, kitchens, and lives are destroyed.”

At Least Four Supreme Court Justices Cosign Legal Theory That Existentially Threatens Fair Elections (DonkeyHotey)

From Talking Points Memo: “On the surface, the Supreme Court’s order in a Republican challenge to North Carolina’s redistricting maps earlier [last] week was a win for voting rights advocates. The majority refused to stay a congressional map drawn by the North Carolina Supreme Court after voters challenged the legislature’s version that heavily favored GOP candidates. That leaves the state court’s map in place, which is much fairer than the legislature’s concoction. But the dissent authored by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, along with, to a lesser degree, a concurrence from Justice Brett Kavanaugh, offer a dark indication as to where the right wing of the bench would like to go. The dissenters say that North Carolina Republicans had the stronger argument and likely would have won on the merits to get the court’s map invalidated.” 

School Masking Policies and Secondary SARS-CoV-2 Transmission (Mili)

The authors write, “Throughout the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, masking has been a widely used mitigation practice in kindergarten through 12th grade (K–12) school districts to limit within-school transmission. Prior studies attempting to quantify the impact of masking have assessed total cases within schools; however, the metric that more optimally defines effectiveness of mitigation practices is within-school transmission, or secondary cases. We aimed to estimate the impact of various masking practices on secondary transmission in a cohort of K–12 schools.”

Electric Planes Are Coming Sooner Than You Think (Dana)

From Afar: “You may be boarding an electric plane sooner than you think. The first rollouts for a major airline — with United — are due in 2026, and countries like Denmark and Sweden have announced plans to make all domestic flights fossil fuel-free by 2030. The past year has propelled the aviation industry ever closer toward a goal of viable commercial electric aircraft. United Airlines announced in July that it’s buying 100 19-seater, zero-emission electric planes from Swedish startup Heart Aerospace; they are set to take flight for short hops in the United States in 2026. Over in Europe, EasyJet’s partnership with U.S. startup Wright Electric has led to development plans for the Wright 1, an all-electric, 186-seat commercial passenger jet with an 800-mile range that’s targeted to enter service around 2030. Up sooner still, Wright Electric additionally announced in November plans for an electric 100-seater, the Wright Spirit, due out in 2026.”