Anna Hursey was ten years old when she made her international debut on the professional table tennis circuit. A year later the Welsh prodigy became the youngest athlete to compete in the Commonwealth Games.
Alongside her fierce competitive streak, which has seen off adult opponents, runs a passion to tackle the climate change crisis, which caught her attention when she began watching the news.
And now, still aged only 14, she has been spotted by President Biden, who has asked for her help in making his climate initiative a success. The US embassy sent her a message last month inquiring if she would help the president to tackle what it said was the “most urgent priority” of his administration. Anna was asked to speak to the embassy about working with it to promote the message to young people.
“I never thought something like this would happen to me,” she told The Times of London. “I was really surprised but I was excited to talk to them about it.”
Anna is scheduled to speak to Yael Lempert, the interim head of the US embassy in London, about how, in the run-up to the summit Biden is hosting on Earth Day, April 22, she can help spread messages about combating climate change and reducing carbon emissions. “I am a bit nervous,” she said. “I wrote down some sentences I can say to her and I have been doing a lot more research on climate change.”
At the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia in 2018 Anna won her opening game before finally being knocked out in the quarter-finals of the women’s team competition. She is ranked No 1 in Wales for under-15s and No 2 among the seniors.
Last year the United Nations made her the “young champion” of its Sports for Climate Action Framework. More than 110 sports teams and organizations have signed the framework, agreeing to promote greater environmental responsibility.
The 2015 Paris agreement, which America rejoined last month, aims to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Britain is a signatory.
Anna, who has a British father and a Chinese mother, is a rising star in her sport, and organizations appear eager to use her to spread their messages. As an asthma-sufferer, she says she feels the effects of air pollution more than others, but as an athlete competing at an international level, she is aware how hard it is to live a carbon-neutral lifestyle.
“I do travel but I always offset all the carbon,” she said. “I work out how many miles I go by car and on the plane and I put that into carbonfootprint.com and it tells us how much money to invest in different projects. Saving energy, recycling, using less fossil fuels, walking, cycling instead of driving when possible — there is so much we can do. Small, large, every change and effort is important. I want to be involved, working with others toward the answers.”
Born in Carmarthen, west Wales, Anna was spotted for her table tennis talent at a young age, and since six she has attended intensive training camps in China, where she would practice up to seven hours a day. She made her international senior debut aged ten and in 2019 relocated to China permanently to train with the best in the city of Harbin, in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, she returned to Britain, and she now lives and trains in Cardiff at the national sports center with the Welsh senior squad.
While training with the aim to win medals at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, she is still having to do her schoolwork. A pupil at Inter High, an online secondary school, she has been doing Web video classes since before the pandemic as a way to fit her lessons around her training schedule. After speaking to The Times of London last week she had a math lesson and geography lesson to attend before putting in more hours of training.
“Table tennis hasn’t been the most popular sport in the UK but it’s definitely getting more popular, and in China it’s been the biggest sport for years,” she said. “I just want to try to use my voice to let people know about climate change, and hopefully they can take some action in their own lives to help.”
Cats are aloof, self-centered and prone to lashing out with their claws. Now, it has emerged, they are treacherous too. Unlike dogs, cats will not side with you against an enemy, researchers found. While dogs will shun a person who behaves negatively toward their owner, cats will happily accept a treat from them.
Cats have not evolved to “cooperate” with humans, the researchers said, so they do not “show the same social evaluation abilities as dogs”. But as any cat owner will attest, their pets are not stupid when it comes to people-reading: studies have found they can follow human pointing and gazing cues, and can discriminate between our emotional expressions. Cooperation, however, was not really part of their history — apart from in females when rearing their offspring — so they are not attuned to human third-party interactions like Rover is, it seems.
“Dogs were able to become cooperative partners with humans through domestication based on the high sociality of their ancestor species, the wolf, whereas the ancestor of cats was a solitary hunter,” Hitomi Chijiiwa, the lead researcher from Kyoto University in Japan, said. “And even in domestication, cats have not been selected for cooperation with humans.” Artificial selection has long been used to develop certain dog breeds for jobs such as guarding, herding and hunting, she said, but cats have not undergone such intensely controlled breeding.
For the study, published in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition, the researchers enlisted 36 cats and their owners and randomly divided them into two groups.
The first part of the experiment was the same for both groups: the cat watched as their owner tried unsuccessfully to open a container and then requested help from a person — an actor — sitting nearby. The cats in the first group then witnessed the actor refusing to help their owner, while those in the second group saw the actor offer assistance. After each interaction, the cat was offered food by the actor and also by a neutral person who had been present throughout, and the experiment was repeated four times with each animal.
When the results were analyzed it became apparent that the cats did not care whether the person offering them food had let their owner down: those in both groups were equally happy to accept a treat from the actor, helpful or not, as they were the neutral person. “We found no evidence that cats evaluate humans in third-party interactions: they neither avoided a non-helper nor preferred a helper, despite their known sensitivity to human behavioral cues,” Chijiiwa said.
When her team had previously conducted the same experiment with dogs, the animals were less willing to accept food from the actor if they had witnessed them failing to help their owner.
Not all types of cats may be as disloyal as our own Tiddles and Felix, though. Despite being part of the Felidae family, lions cooperate, and a study published last year by the American University in Cairo showed they will even join forces to pull a rope together to access a food reward. This suggests that they may have developed the ability to read the room like dogs do, too.
“The ability to evaluate others based on indirect experiences might be restricted to more cooperative species,” said Chijiiwa. “Given their cooperation in day-to-day activities including hunting and their ability to solve a cooperative rope-pulling task, lions might be expected to have this ability.”
According to the PDSA animal charity, there are nearly 11 million cats in the UK, making them the nation’s favorite pet.