The World: Science, Tech & Environment

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A daily public radio broadcast program and podcast from PRX and WGBH, hosted by Marco Werman

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Last updated on August 08, 2020, 9:43 pm

#1

The Philippines identified as the deadliest country for environmental activists

July 30, 2019 • 5m

The international nonprofit Global Witness has released an annual report on attacks against land and environmental defenders and has found that the Philippines is the deadliest country for these activists, averaging more than three deaths a week. In total, 164 activists were killed in 2018. A significant number of attacks on environmental activists are linked to the mining industry, as well as hydropower, agribusiness and logging projects. Additionally, many activists in the Philippines face death threats, intimidation and arrests. To understand the dangers Filipino activists face, Marco Werman spoke with Jaybee Garganera, environmental activist and the national coordinator for the Filipino environmental group Alyansa Tigil Mina, The Alliance Against Mining.Jaybee Garganera: Being an activist is already difficult, in general, here in the Philippines. Being an environmental activist puts additional challenges in the work. When we go down south in Mindanao, the southern part of the Philippines where most of the mines are located, the challenge of martial law in the Mindanao region poses additional risks for us environmentalists. Martial law is still in effect in Mindanao and that's problematic because the presence of the military in many of the communities affected by mines, logging or plantations are easily justified. When you have opposition to these projects it's easy for local communities to be tagged as bandits or rebels or communist insurgents and that adds another layer of complications to local communities.Related: Assassins murdered Honduran activist Berta Cáceres. Her mother and daughters have taken up the fight.Marco Werman: Have you as an activist ever been threatened? Can you talk about one episode, what happened and who did it?Yes, I've had several strange calls and even death threats. The most recent and the scariest one happened about two years ago when the caller actually mentioned my car brand, color, and my plate number and they knew the village that I was residing in. Of course, I asked them why are were doing that and they said, "Why are you wondering? It's because you're up against powerful and big players here with what you're doing." What I have experienced is a very small incident of harassment compared to the daily threats and challenges faced by communities who day in and day out have to face the large-scale mining companies or the power plants or the large plantation owners.There were more than 150 land defenders and environmental activists killed last year in the Philippines. I want to know more about who's behind that. Let's start at the top. We know Rodrigo Duterte, the president, has taken a zero-tolerance approach to drugs. What are his feelings about environmental activism?Well, as president he has given the impression that he's an environmentalist but he has not been able to stop one single mine. You have this signal from the president that human rights is a low priority and that is sending the message to large business interests that those who are opposing mining or opposing logging or opposing plantations are open season to be intimidated and harassed and eventually be silenced.Related: Grassroots efforts help forge new paths of LGBTI acceptance in the PhilippinesAre you saying that the perpetrators are somehow connected to the mining companies or to the military stationed in these mining communities? And how do you know that?We do have two cases that have been documented. One is up north in a mine owned by Oceana Gold and this mining contract expired a month ago but it's still operating. The other case down in Mindanao actually resulted in a military court being convened because of the involvement of the military in the murder of the family of a leading Indigenous person who was leading the anti-mining campaign.What keeps you motivated as an environmental activist in the Philippines?My exposure during college was working with indigenous peoples and I saw how beautiful our natural resources were. I've also seen the impacts of mining and logging. I simply want a better future for my children. I want to be able to tell my grandkids and we did something to prevent total environmental destruction.This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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#2

New Orleans chef brings heat to icy Antarctica

May 28, 2019 • 6m

Jack Gilmore, 23, had never left the US before he worked on a research vessel as a cook during a two-month expedition to Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica this past winter.“It was my goal to bring home with me.”As a native of New Orleans, “It was my goal to bring home with me,” Gilmore said. Along with the ship’s head chef, Julian Isaacs, he cooked lunch and dinner for nearly 60 every day, and added dishes like shrimp étouffée, fried chicken, gumbo and po’boys to the menu aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer icebreaker. Dry goods are stored in the ship’s bow, one of the best places on the Palmer to hear ice scraping the hull. Credit: Carolyn Beeler/The World  But as he brought a little bit of New Orleans to Antarctica, he learned what the region’s rapidly melting glaciers could do to his home city, which sits largely at or below sea level.West Antarctica’s glaciers are melting fast, and if they collapse entirely, they could raise global sea levels roughly 11 feet. Jack Gilmore writes the menu on a whiteboard in the galley of the Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel. The kitchen staff prepared four meals a day for the nearly 60 scientists, staff and crew on the ship: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and “midrats,” short for “midnight rations,” for those working the night shift. Credit: Carolyn Beeler/The World  When Gilmore walked out of the ship’s kitchen and onto the deck on the February day when the Palmer finally reached Thwaites Glacier, he was struck by the walls of ice that stretched taller than the ship.“To think that eventually maybe, one day, all of these things will be gone, that’s a lot of ice that has to melt. And that water has to go somewhere.” “To think that eventually maybe, one day, all of these things will be gone, that’s a lot of ice that has to melt. And that water has to go somewhere,” Gilmore said.It made him think about home — Mardi Gras and French Creole, and the grandparents who raised him to love his city and its cuisine. Two scientists serve themselves at the buffet line in the Palmer’s galley. Credit: Carolyn Beeler/The World “To know that that may be all wiped away because of some glaciers melting,” Gilmore said. “It’s like damn, we got to get it together.” Jack Gilmore’s stint on the Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel in Antarctica marked his first trip abroad. Credit: Carolyn Beeler/The World  

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#3

Coronavirus spread threatens Colombia's Amazonian Indigenous communities

May 29, 2020 • 4m

Along the Amazon River, people have long moved freely among the small towns that sit where the borders of Brazil, Colombia and Peru converge — walking and driving between countries, or rafting from one shore to another. Earlier this month, the Colombian government ordered the free flow to stop. President Iván Duque announced in mid-May he will send uniformed soldiers to guard the border between the two countries to prevent the coronavirus from spreading from neighboring Brazil, which quickly emerged as a global epicenter of the pandemic.Related: Bolsonaro’s ‘so what’ response to coronavirus deaths is latest in his spiraling political crisisBut Duque’s efforts came too late. The coronavirus has spread across Colombia’s Amazon rainforest, threatening the Indigenous communities that make up a majority of the region’s population. More than 1,500 people there were reported to be infected by Tuesday, according to Sinergias, an independent public health organization. “The situation is very serious because there’s a lack of medical personnel and infrastructure.”Julio Cesar Lopez Jamioy, president, Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon“The situation is very serious because there’s a lack of medical personnel and infrastructure,” said Julio César López Jamioy, president of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon.The town of Leticia, the capital of Colombia’s Amazon region, has just two small hospitals that were quickly overwhelmed with patients. López Jamioy said he believes the virus has spread to communities in the rainforest. An estimated 1 million people comprising some 400 communities live in the Amazon rainforest. And if the coronavirus spreads, it has the potential to wipe out entire ethnic groups. Indigenous communities have been devastated by infectious diseases as recently as the 1990s, when measles, meningitis and the cold killed almost half the members of the Nukak community in the northern Amazon. “Disease has almost wiped out all Indigenous communities and almost erased all indigenous knowledge.”William Yucuna, practices traditional medicine, Yucuna community“Disease has almost wiped out all Indigenous communities and almost erased all Indigenous knowledge,” said William Yucuna, who practices traditional medicine and is from the Yucuna community.The second-biggest threat after the loss of life is the loss of knowledge, Yucuna said. The coronavirus represents a threat especially to elders, who are stewards of oral knowledge about the rainforest and about community history. “We don’t have our wisdom, our knowledge, our science in writing the way you do,” Yucuna said. “Every grandfather, every knower is a steward of that oral knowledge.”Related: Photos: Colombia’s Indigenous Guard, defenders of the land and their own livesThat’s why entire communities in the rainforest have gone into isolation, said Antonio Loboguerrero, director of Fundación Etnollano, a nongovernmental organization working alongside Indigenous peoples. They are not allowing anyone in or out. Some communities are using traditional medicine to strengthen their people’s immune systems. And Loboguerrero has spoken with at least one leader who’s been designated as the only person to leave the community to travel once a month to the nearest town, he said. Communities in the rainforest have become dependent on commerce with others and buy provisions such as coffee, fishing hooks and batteries for flashlights, Loboguerrero said. They also want to know how the pandemic is evolving.“They need to communicate with other people,” Loboguerrero said. “They’re people who want to know what’s happening in their region and what’s happening in the whole world.”

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#4

Iran wasn’t ready for these huge floods. But they should get ready for more in the future.

April 26, 2019 • 7m

Since March, Iran has been ravaged by record rainfall and unprecedented flash flooding. At least 26 of 31 provinces have been impacted by the deadly floods. One city received 70% of its annual rainfall in a single day. Dozens of people have died."This is the largest disaster to hit Iran in more than 15 years," Zahra Falahat, the Iranian Red Crescent’s under secretary general for international affairs and international humanitarian law, said in a statement. "Entire villages [were] washed away in a matter of minutes, countless homes and buildings [were] damaged and completely destroyed.Related: In El Salvador, climate change means less coffee, and more migrantsPictures and videos posted on social media show total destruction. A video posted on Twitter shows cars and trucks being tossed around in the water, like toys. One car floats by while a man clings to its roof.The Iranian government has been accused of mismanaging the response to the disaster, with some residents of afflicted areas complaining that action has been slow and insufficient. But Iran's Red Crescent has repeatedly complained that US banking sanctions reimposed last year make it impossible to receive donations from outside the country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put the blame on Iran's leaders.Related: Legally, 'climate refugees' don't exist. But in Georgia, they say they're already here."These floods once again show the level of Iranian regime mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness. The regime blames outside entities when, in fact, it is their mismanagement that has led to this disaster," Pompeo said in a statement. Ali Asaei, who lives in Tehran, Iran, collected donations for residents of the flooded areas. Credit: Ali Asaei While the political finger-pointing continues, Iranian volunteers have been stepping up to help.One of them is Ali Asaei, a Tehran-based photographer. Speaking from his home, Asaei says when he heard about the floods, he knew immediately he had to help.After all, he’d seen how messy aid distribution can get in Iran in the aftermath of disasters. Last year, after an earthquake hit western Iran, he volunteered to help. He says he saw some survivors receive an abundance of aid while others went without. After the recent floods, Asaei posted a story on his Instagram page and asked for donations. In just one day, he collected about $6,000, mostly from his friends and family. Then, he went shopping. He bought tents, blankets and sanitary napkins, something that he says people often forget in times of disasters. Through friends and connections, he made sure the roads were safe enough to pass and that his presence wouldn't hurt any other relief effort on the ground. Then, he loaded the supplies to the back of his SUV and headed toward western Iran.Asaei shared a recording from one arduous trek to deliver aid to a small village that's completely surrounded by water from an overflowing river. There is no road — just water. Eventually, Asaei and a couple of other men find a boat. When they cross to the other side, locals run toward them to collect the aid.Having volunteered to help after a string of disasters in recent years, Asaei says he's conflicted. On the one hand, he says, he doesn’t want to do what the government should be doing. On the other, he knows if people like him don’t help, maybe nobody will. The Iranian government didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Kaveh Madani, who used to be the deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment, said he is disturbed about the response to the floods. "To see the people of your country going through all these troubles which could have been avoided with some planning and foresight," he said.Madani went to school in the US and Europe. In 2017, he went back to Iran to work at the Ministry of Environment. He was critical of the government’s environmental policies — specifically, how it has mishandled water management for decades. "There was a group of hard-liners and radicals who were operating for years in a certain way. They were not happy with my statements," Madani said."They blamed me for my efforts to ratify the Paris Agreement, arguing that I wanted to limit development in the country, you know — the same argument that Donald Trump is making about the Paris Agreement and how destructive it is to the economy."Kaveh Madani, Yale University, researcherAmong other things, he thought the government was ignoring the effects of climate change on rainfall. And the need to better prepare. The response was fierce: "They called me a 'water terrorist;' they called me a "bioterrorist,"" explained Madani. "They blamed me for my efforts to ratify the Paris Agreement, arguing that I wanted to limit development in the country, you know — the same argument that Donald Trump is making about the Paris Agreement and how destructive it is to the economy."After roughly six months on the job, Madani resigned. He left Iran and is now a researcher at Yale University.Today, he shakes his head at the Iranian government’s response to the floods."You know, why they’re operating this way. Why they’re not prepared at all for evacuation and rescuing the victims and so on." Young volunteers give free haircuts to flood survivors in western Iran's Khuzestan Province.  Credit: Ali Asaei Meanwhile, neighboring countries like Afghanistan and Iraq have also been impacted by the floods. And the governments in the region weren’t the only ones caught off guard.Jay Famiglietti directs the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. He’s studied water and climate change for decades."For someone like me who is a hydrologist and a climate scientist who’s been watching this region just dry out progressively for about a third of my professional career and then to turn on the news a month ago and start to hear about all these floods, it’s really crazy."Jay Famiglietti, Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan"For someone like me who is a hydrologist and a climate scientist who’s been watching this region just dry out progressively for about a third of my professional career and then to turn on the news a month ago and start to hear about all these floods, it’s really crazy," Famiglietti said.Climate change is leading to more extreme weather around the world, he says. It is causing worse droughts, heat waves and bigger storms.It can also mean more sudden swings between these extremes.Famiglietti says climate change probably played a role in the flip between drought and flood in Iran."Another way to think of it is, would this have happened with the severity if climate change were not happening? And the answer is probably no," he said. Famiglietti believes this is the new reality. And countries like Iran need to get ready."With this increasing frequency of these catastrophic floods, we do have to ramp up our emergency response, our preparedness all over the world," he said.Editor's note: Full disclosure: Ali Asaei is a friend of the reporter's. 

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#5

Seven decades after the bomb, children of Hiroshima victims still worry about hidden health effects

March 19, 2019 • 7m

Nakatani Etsuko says her father rarely spoke of the day that the world’s first atomic weapon killed 140,000 people in his city of Hiroshima, Japan.But she says he did mention one thing: “That there were so many dead bodies in the river, you couldn’t see the water.”Etsuko’s father was a teacher in Hiroshima. He was out of town when the bomb fell on Aug. 6, 1945. But he returned to the city the next morning to check on his school.It was gone. All 319 students were dead. He couldn’t save anybody, but Etsuko says he stayed to help cremate the bodies and collect the bones to give to the parents. A photo in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum shows a clock stopped at the moment the atomic bomb exploded over the city. Credit: Ibby Caputo/The World  But that meant that he was exposed to radiation lingering in the city after the bombing. After a few days, he collapsed and started showing signs of radiation sickness. He grew pale and lost his hair and had a high fever and diarrhea. He slept all day.Related: 'I still hate the glow of the setting sun': Hiroshima survivors tell their storiesHe eventually did recover — many others who were exposed to residual radiation did not — but Etsuko says the memory of what happened haunted him.“Because he had this experience, he was very worried about his children,” Etsuko said. Even his children who were born after the bombing.Etsuko was born four years later. Her father worried about her and her siblings’ health, and about discrimination against them. Rumors spread that bomb survivors carried contagious diseases and that their children would be disabled or have deformities.“I still remember those words very vividly,” Etsuko said. “And I have been feeling very anxious about it ever since.”Etsuko says she was a sickly child. She and her family feared that was because of the bomb, and she says it’s one of the reasons she never married. She says she worried what would happen if she had children.Related: Hiroshima survivors want more than a US apologyEven today, at 69, Etsuko still worries about getting sick because of her father’s exposure to radiation. And she’s not alone. A few years ago, she founded an organization of children of survivors of the Hiroshima bombing. She’s also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Japanese government seeking to win medical benefits for survivors’ children.Direct survivors of the atomic bomb, a group known as hibakusha, are eligible for special health benefits under a law passed decades after the war. Etsuko’s lawsuit is aimed at extending those benefits to people like her. Nakatani Etsuko's father suffered from radiation poisoning following the Hiroshima bombing. She was born four years later, and has been plagued by anxiety about her health since she was a child. Credit: Ibby Caputo/The World  The problem is, there’s no evidence that children conceived after the bombing have suffered higher rates of illness.“Until now, we have not seen effects,” said Eric Grant, with the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima. The organization has been investigating the health effects of atomic bomb radiation on both survivors and their children since soon after the war.“It would be surprising to see large effects” on these children now, after so long, Grant said. The Japanese government seems even more certain. In its response to the lawsuit, the government cites a 2013 report by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation stating that there is no scientific proof that genetic mutations occur in children whose parents were exposed to radiation.Separately, a spokesperson for the government’s Health Service Bureau said there is “absolutely no scientific basis” for claims that children of survivors have been affected.Still, Grant says, that may not be the last word.“The possibility remains,” he said, and his organization is continuing to study it.This possibility — however small — worries many children of survivors. It doesn’t help that a lot of them don’t trust the data that shows no health effects, a distrust that goes back all the way to the days after the war, when researchers studied A-bomb survivors but didn’t actually treat their injuries.Children of survivors are also concerned because lab studies of mice do show genetic mutations in the offspring of parents exposed to radiation. But it’s not clear whether those studies have any relevance to health impacts in humans.Grant says there is now technology to look for genetic markers that could indicate radiation-induced mutations that could, in turn, be linked to health issues. He says the technology is extremely expensive and the Radiation Effects Research Foundation hasn’t yet begun to put it to use, but he says researchers hope to move ahead with it soon.For her part, Etsuko doesn’t want to wait for more research. She says the government should extend the bomb survivor support laws, just in case.“The problem is the government relies on the data, and as long as the research shows that children of survivors are not affected by radiation, the government is not willing to extend support laws."Etsuko Nakatani, 69, adult child of Hiroshima survivor “The problem is the government relies on the data, and as long as the research shows that children of survivors are not affected by radiation, the government is not willing to extend support laws,” she said.  Related: Why this Hiroshima survivor dedicated his life to searching for the families of 12 American POWsLike Etsuko, some children of survivors are now in their 60s and 70s. And like her, they’ve lived with anxiety about their health for their whole lives. She says that in itself is a burden.“The most important problem is our insecurity about our own health,” she said. It’s an unquenchable fear that may be one of the most enduring impacts of the bomb.

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#6

America's grungy 'recycled' plastic is creating wastelands in Asia

June 04, 2019 • 6m

Editor's note: This story is part of  "Pushing plastics," a series by the Center for Public Integrity and PRI's The World about the battle over plastic.Follow the stench and you will find them: flaming heaps of dirty plastic, gushing black smoke, bringing death to a place otherwise teeming with life.These are the coastal lowlands along Malaysia’s side of the Strait of Malacca. This is a mostly lush place, studded with fat palms and forest canopies dripping with vines. But over the past year and a half, black pillars of smoke have appeared above the treetops.Tan See Han, a man in his forties who grew up in the area, spends his nights and weekends chasing the fumes. He drives around, sniffing out acrid pyres and plotting their coordinates on his phone. Each site is reported to the provincial authorities in the hopes that someone important will do something.Related: As China gets tough on recycling, will America get cleaner?Tan drives me to one of his latest finds: a burn pile hidden down a series of twisting back roads. We smell it before we see it, even with his truck’s windows rolled up. Rounding the corner, it comes into view: a small mound of still-smoldering plastic that is scorched black.It’s only 8 a.m. but we’re already late, Tan says. The burning usually begins around midnight. Had we arrived in the pre-dawn darkness, he says, you might’ve seen a fire pit as big as a house. All of it fueled by plastic scrap, which is derived from crude oil and thus quick to burn. Activist Tan See Han reveals an illegal dump site in Pulau Indah, Malaysia. This is where “recyclers” burn foreign plastic, much of it from the US. Credit: Patrick Winn/The World “Most of this plastic — well, the main country — it’s the USA. ... You’ll see it on the labels. Made in USA! And it’s mostly plastic packaging for food.”Tan See Han, MalaysiaStepping gingerly through the smoky heap leaves hot goop on our shoes. The fumes turn our eyes pink. “Most of this plastic — well, the main country — it’s the USA,” Tan says. “You’ll see it on the labels. Made in USA! And it’s mostly plastic packaging for food.”Around the site, there are bulbous sacks of plastic junk, some of them spilling out of metal shipping containers. This scrap is what fuels the burn pile. There’s waste from the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden and the Netherlands but — as Tan says — much of it comes from the United States.There are the remnants of Five Hour Energy drinks. Shaved Parmesan Cheese, sold by the Midwestern grocery chain SuperValu. V8 tomato juice sold by Family Dollar. Electrolyte solution from Target. And so many water bottles: Aquafina, Perrier, Trader Joe’s Sparkling Natural Spring Water. A shredded label from a bottle of Trader Joe’s sparkling water. The markings indicate it was sold in the US. Credit: Patrick Winn/The World This is the detritus of American consumerism — and it is inflaming a full-on environmental emergency more than 8,000 miles from US soil.This is the detritus of American consumerism — and it is inflaming a full-on environmental emergency more than 8,000 miles from US soil. And as I speak to other Malaysian activists, I hear a refrain: America, above all, has the power to make this stop.“American people, when you enjoy your lifestyle, which is so convenient, do you ever think about what you’re dumping into other countries?” Pua Lay Peng says. She’s a 47-year-old chemist who, like Tan, devotes her free time to documenting plastic fires erupting around the countryside. Electrolyte formula, sold at Target in the US, awaiting the burn pile in Malaysia. Credit: Patrick Winn/The World “Is this the way you act as so-called highly civilized people? You want to keep your own country clean,” Pua says. “You have protests to fight for your environment. But you dump your waste, your shit and your toxic and dangerous things into my country?”Pua is becoming the face of the Malaysian resistance to foreign plastic. Everyday people, she says, are pitted against a complex array of enemies — namely criminal operators, coming over from mainland China, who illegally profit from American and European scrap.“Somehow, overnight, we became the dustbin of the world. What has happened to my country?”Pua Lay Peng, MalaysiaShe belongs to a tiny collective of amateur detectives, each of them fending off what she describes as a foreign invasion that has poisoned her homeland. “We go outside … and we feel tired within five minutes. Our sky is hazy. We can’t exercise without feeling sick,” Pua says. “Somehow, overnight, we became the dustbin of the world. What has happened to my country?”Related: Your 'recycled' laptop may end up in an illegal Asian scrapyardSince the early 1990s, roughly half of the world’s plastic scrap has been shipped to China.After used plastic forks or empty yogurt tubs fill up a recycling bin in, say, California, someone has to sift through all that waste to pick out stuff that’s too gunked up to recycle. Moreover, some types of plastic packaging can’t be recycled at all. Sorting through all this waste is a foul, tedious job and, for decades, it has mostly fallen upon Chinese workers.This sorting process creates two piles: one for plastic that is clean enough to reuse and another for plastic that’s irredeemably dirty. In the past decade or so, it’s been an open secret that brokers in China have often disposed of that second pile using the cheapest and most destructive methods, namely burning it.“Only some of what has gone overseas is actually recycled. ... [much of the plastic shipped off to China] was being dumped, burned, ending up in waterways and piled into open fields.”Martin Bourque, executive director , Ecology Center, Berkeley, California, USA“Only some of what has gone overseas is actually recycled,” says Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center in Berkeley, California. The center, contracted by the city to pick up recyclable waste for residents, is one of the longest-running recycling operations in the US.American recyclers have long known, he says, that much of the plastic shipped off to China “was being dumped, burned, ending up in waterways and piled into open fields.”This doesn’t just make environmentalists such as Bourque squeamish. It’s been the subject of a years-long crackdown in China, where the government is declaring that it will no longer take the world’s foulest plastic trash.That crackdown intensified in early 2018. And that’s about the time that strangers began turning up in Pua’s hometown.Related: China is clamping down on dirty recycling from across the globeIt’s a quiet place called Jenjarom, home to roughly 30,000 residents, with loads of cheap, verdant land available to rent. A roughly 30-minute drive brings you to Port Klang, a gateway to Asia, and one of the busiest ports on the planet.These qualities have attracted shady “recyclers” on the run from China’s crackdown. They’re brokers who seek a place to quickly set up illegal factories — a place to bring in foreign plastic, pick out the good stuff and torch the rest.Jenjarom’s ethnic makeup makes it doubly attractive to Chinese operators. It was one of many Chinese-majority towns created under British rule, an era when imperial forces in the 1950s set up internment villages for Chinese workers. Families were corralled into zones where they could be monitored, lest they fall under communism’s spell.Pua’s parents were among the corralled. Today, Jenjarom remains a place where Chinese is widely spoken — namely in the Hokkien dialect, although Mandarin is also commonly understood.“This is a nice Chinese village. We must have seemed perfect for them,” Pua says. “We’ve got the same language, sort of the same culture. Chinese food. Chinese people, happy to rent land. And a highway running straight to the port.”At first, the foreign men popping up in town were a curiosity. But once their scrapyards were set up, Pua says, a toxic stench settled over her hometown, bringing with it sickness and hacking coughs and kids unable to focus in class.Pua likens the smell to leaving a hot iron on a nylon shirt, toasting its fabric until the fumes singe your sinuses. That times one million. Just taking a walk to the neighbor’s house would leave a sickly film in her throat. Exercising outdoors? Forget it, she says.It was like the light dimmed in everyone’s eyes.“What a big shame for Malaysia! We have a beautiful country, a green environment,” she says. “Then it’s like, wow, do you even dare to breathe outside? People would just hide in their rooms.”Related: Here are all your burning questions about recycling, answeredThe bolder residents vowed to take action. They chased the smoke, discovered the burn sites — dozens of them — and snapped photos, sometimes using drones. As a chemist, Pua knew that they were inhaling dioxins, a potentially cancerous class of compounds.The activists steadily built their ranks, seeking out others in nearby ethnic Chinese enclaves that were also plagued by plastic fires. They brought their evidence to the authorities, handing over binders of paper filled up with GPS coordinates and damning pictures.Sometimes this would result in an illegal factory’s closure. But far too often, Pua says, the factories would resurface nearby like a stubborn infection. She strongly suspects corruption is to blame.“Can you believe it? They’d get raided, two or three times, and dare to come back,” she says. “This government has no function!” A Malaysian plastics recycling factory, shut down by the government and surrounded in yellow tape, that was still secretly operating when visited by The World. Credit: Patrick Winn/The World Then came the threats. Once, while documenting an illicit scrapyard, Tan was encircled by men who yanked the keys out of his truck, screamed at him and warned him to never return. Pua and her peers have also received messages warning them that there is a price on their heads: 100,000 ringgit, the Malaysian currency, or roughly $24,000.Her reply? “Haha,” she wrote back in English. “Waiting here we also will die.”In other words: If you’re going to saturate my town in cancerous smoke —threatening the lives of myself, my kids and everyone I love — then I’m already facing death. What do I have to lose by confronting you?“If we keep quiet, you know what will happen?” she says. “Those illegal factories, they would multiply by two times, three times. They can copy and paste so fast!”The tribulations facing this one town are just a microcosm of the larger plague faced by the entire country of Malaysia. Last year, this tropical nation — a bit smaller in size and population than California — took over from China as the top recipient of US plastic scrap.Jenjarom has become ground zero for the resistance. At last, activists such as Pua appear to have captured the government’s attention. Malaysia’s environmental minister, Yeo Bee Yin, has promised the start of a China-style crackdown.Declaring to local media that “Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world,” the minister has declared war on global “syndicates who are making lucrative profits from importing such waste from developed countries.” She has a word for Malaysians who are getting rich off this racket: “traitors.”"...The problem is not only a Malaysian problem. The international waste trade system itself is broken and based on false assumption about what really happens with waste.”Heng Kiah Chun, lead campaigner for Malaysia, GreenpeaceYeo has promised to eventually phase out all plastic scrap imports and root out the criminal burn sites. Greenpeace has called this a “strong step in the right direction,” though its lead Malaysian campaigner, Heng Kiah Chun, warns that “the problem is not only a Malaysian problem. The international waste trade system itself is broken and based on false assumption about what really happens with waste.”What these campaigners want is a world where — at the bare minimum — countries such as the US will keep their plastic trash at home.But that will come with costs. For example, when Berkeley’s Ecology Center learned that some of its plastic waste was turning up in dubious sites in rural China and Malaysia, the city decided to stop exporting plastic waste altogether.They now have their plastic waste sorted at a California facility, which uses high-tech machines with optical scanners to help sift out reusable scrap.That decision was not cheap. Before Beijing’s crackdown ramped up, brokers in China were paying the Berkeley center roughly $35 per ton of plastic scrap, Bourque says. Now the city the center has to shell out $75 per ton — and only about half of that junk ends up getting recycled. The rest is dumped into a garbage dump.“But we’d rather see it thrown into a landfill where at least we know where it’s going,” Bourque says. “That’s better than exporting it into uncertain markets overseas.”This was a costly decision was made in an affluent college town with a strong environmentalist streak. Not every US city will be willing to boost its costs to spare some faraway Asian village from catastrophe.Meanwhile, Malaysian activists have secured small victories — such as pushing the illegal pyres out of Jenjarom — but the burn sites keep resurfacing elsewhere along the coast, in places such as Pulau Indah (Malay for “beautiful island”), where Tan took me, and as far north as a region bordering Thailand.“They’ll just keep finding another place to burn,” Tan says. “Maybe deeper in the jungle.”Pua soldiers on, filing multiple reports on illegal dumps each week, growing more exhausted by the day. She confesses that the stress is causing her to drop weight. Her Saturdays and Sundays are devoured by the tedious work of scouting and pestering authorities.Frankly, Pua tells me, she hates talking about this plastic scourge, especially to a foreigner. “This is nothing I would ever feel proud to tell you. This is my country. This is my hometown. I don’t want to criticize it.”“...I have to take the opportunity to say this: America, the way you dump your waste on us … it is very hypocritical. ... Stop sending your rubbish to other countries and start managing it yourself.”Pua Lay Peng, Malaysia“But I have to take the opportunity to say this: America, the way you dump your waste on us … it is very hypocritical,” Pua says. “Stop sending your rubbish to other countries and start managing it yourself.”Jamie Smith Hopkins from the Center for Public Integrity contributed reporting from California.

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#7

What history tells us about building climate coalitions

May 15, 2020 • 6m

Massive programs of green public investment would be the most cost-effective way both to revive virus-hit economies and strike a decisive blow against climate change, top US and British economists said in a study published last month. With co-authors including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz from Columbia University and prominent British climate expert Lord Nicholas Stern, the findings are likely to fuel calls for "green recoveries" gathering momentum around the world.Related: Amsterdam’s coronavirus recovery plan embraces ‘doughnut economics’ for people and the planet"The COVID-19 crisis could mark a turning point in progress on climate change," the authors wrote, adding that much would depend on policy choices made in the next six months.With major economies drawing up enormous economic packages to cushion the shock of the coronavirus pandemic, many investors, politicians and businesses see a unique opportunity to drive a shift toward a low-carbon future.But meaningful action on climate change will take a lot of political will.Author Matto Mildenberger has examined how politics have shaped decades of climate policy in his new book, "Carbon Captured: How Business and Labor Control Climate Politics."Related: Mutual aid groups respond to double threat of coronavirus and climate changeMildenberger is also a professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He spoke to The World's host Marco Werman for this week's climate solutions segment. Marco Werman: Why is thinking about the politics of climate so important? What lens does it offer that is missed when we focus on the technical challenges of solving climate change? Matto Mildenberger: Collectively, countries around the world are not doing what it's going to take to solve the climate crisis. Too often, we focused on not having the right technologies to solve the problem, or saying those technologies are too expensive, neither of which is really true anymore. We know we need to do it, and it's cheap and profitable to do it. What matters is the politics of climate change now. So, you focused on Norway and Australia in your book. Why those two? And what did you learn about what works and what doesn't work when it comes to building political coalitions to address climate change?In Norway, we have really early action. They really started having a carbon tax, a carbon price, early in the 1990s; whereas, I think Australia is seeing the most political conflict over climate change than basically anywhere in the world. But here's what you do learn, if we think about Norway, we think about Australia, and frankly, if we think about the United States: In all these countries, climate change actually disrupts some of the existing political coalitions that are out there.We have workers on the left who depend on carbon-intensive jobs, and we also have businesses that depend on carbon pollution. And the same is true on the right when we have more business-friendly parties. A lot of the conflict over climate change actually plays out within the left and within the right. It happens within existing political parties and coalitions.​​​Here in the US though, it does feel really left and right. I mean, the US has politicized climate change probably more than any other country on Earth. With the world's strongest economic power in that position, isn't that a huge barrier to action? A possible upside of the type of polarization we see in the United States is that when the Democrats are in power, there might be more appetite to undertake the type of disruptive climate reforms that are necessary to really solve this problem at the scale that we need to. It's still an open question whether slow and steady, incremental progress that works at the margins is that going to be a better strategy, or might there actually be more opportunity in a polarized political system where, once in a while, the pro-climate actors seize control of power and really try and push forward on this issue.​​​​​​So, we can talk about whether certain climate policies work from a technical perspective, but for talking solutions to climate change, what type of policies are the most politically successful?For about 20 years now, carbon pricing has been one of the main tools in the climate policy toolkit. The idea of carbon pricing is that you, in some way, make companies and polluters pay for the costs associated with the harm they're doing by releasing this pollution into the atmosphere. From a political perspective, this is a really, really difficult policy. It makes consumer costs really visible and the benefits of acting — all of the avoided climate catastrophe that's going to happen in the next 10 or 15 years — is totally hidden.And so, I actually think that there's a lot of sense to foreground benefits and try and pass policies that are more like the Green New Deal that really focus on providing economic opportunities to workers in new industries. That's really going to help generate a coalition that actively wants and desires change. And it's also going to help split apart workers and businesses who have previously been opposed to climate policies by giving workers in fossil fuel industries new opportunities that will sort of bring them into a pro-climate coalition.So, what gives you hope for the future when it comes to political solutions to climate change?If we look at the extraordinary response that's happened right now to the coronavirus pandemic, it's helpful to think that the world can come together and sort of take the type of action they're taking on COVID-19 right now, but applying it to the next big looming crisis. Go back a couple of months to the Democratic primary — presidential candidates who were proposing a $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion climate plan over 10 years were dismissed as fanciful.And we've spent more than that in a couple of weeks under the CARES Act. I think that type of effort and renewed political response to crisis is happening all around the world. And if we can redirect some of those energies to the climate crisis, I think that we have a fighting chance over the 2020s to bring this problem under control.This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Reuters contributed to this report. 

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#9

Antarctica Dispatch 4: Fieldwork begins, cue the seals

February 18, 2019 • 7m

How quickly will Antarctica’s massive Thwaites Glacier melt, and what will that mean for global sea levels and coastal cities? Researchers are sailing toward Thwaites this month on the first leg of a five-year, international effort to try to answer that pressing question, and along the way they’re enlisting local seals as research assistants.The World’s Carolyn Beeler is along for the ride and brings us the latest from the excursion. The scientists are sailing south toward Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier on the icebreaker known as the Nathaniel B. Palmer. The expedition is part of a five-year, international effort to try to determine how fast the massive glacier is melting as the planet warms and what that will mean for global sea level rise over the next century. Credit: Carolyn Beeler/The World  A Zodiac boat carries the researchers from the Nathaniel B. Palmer to the Schaefer Islands in search of seals for tagging. Credit: Carolyn Beeler/The World  Under the watchful eyes of local penguins, Bastien Queste, of the University of East Anglia, and Lars Boehme, of the University of St. Andrews, both in the UK, catch the seal they spotted before anesthetizing her to affix sensors to her head. The sensors will measure depth, temperature and salinity for roughly a year as the seal swims in the water around the Thwaites Glacier. Credit: Carolyn Beeler/The World  Sensor attached, the seal is ready to resume its normal life. The instruments are part of a range of methods and tools researchers are using to learn more about how changes in the water off West Antarctica may be melting the Thwaites Glacier. Credit: Carolyn Beeler/The World  Seal work done under permit number FCO UK No. 29/2018.Related: Antarctica Dispatch 3: The ship's first encounters with icebergsAntarctica Dispatch 2: Crossing the Drake PassageAntarctica Dispatch 1: Gearing up and shipping outWhat Thwaites Glacier can tell us about the future of West Antarctica

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#10

Bolsonaro reignites decades-old fight over land between Indigenous people and farmers

July 11, 2019 • 8m

Izabel Itikawa remembers the day the Brazilian government came and threw her out of her home — a farm in the Amazon. She said police showed up waving a judicial order.“I was expelled from my property, expelled in a humiliating way. … They arrived, breaking into our gates, breaking our locks, invading our properties … with machine guns, with guns in their hands,” she said.That was in 2009. Itikawa’s family lost the land after a court upheld a decision by then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He had declared a region the size of Hawaii — including Itikawa’s land — an Indigenous reserve, named the Raposa Serra do Sol.Related: The death of a black man in Brazil parallels Eric Garner, sparking BLM protestsThat court decision was a huge win for Indigenous people. It followed a vicious battle that began in the 1970s, when Brazil’s military dictatorship built roads into the Amazon and encouraged people to settle there. The country’s 1988 constitution recognizes Indigenous land rights, but it’s taken a long time and many court cases to sort out which territories belong to whom. In the meantime, violent confrontations ensued between Indigenous people and farmers. It finally subsided in recent years, but now, President Jair Bolsonaro’s support for commercial farming in the Amazon is reviving old tensions.Itikawa’s family was compensated — she says they received 5% of the land’s value, and it wasn’t enough. They still found usable land outside the reserve to continue farming, but they always hoped to return to their original farm.“Our hope has been reborn. Today, I have a real president, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, who knows what Brazil needs.”Izabel Itikawa“Our hope has been reborn,” said Itikawa, who believes the Bolsonaro government will partner with Indigenous people so that farmers like her can return to the land as renters. “Today, I have a real president, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, who knows what Brazil needs.” Indigenous people attend a protest to defend indigenous land and cultural rights that they say are threatened by the right-wing government of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, in Brasília, Brazil, April 2019.  Credit: Adriano Machado/Reuters And Bolsonaro has been clear about his policy on Indigenous land.“In 2019, we're going to rip up Raposa Serra do Sol. We're going to give all the ranchers guns.” Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro“In 2019, we're going to rip up Raposa Serra do Sol. We're going to give all the ranchers guns,” he said before he became president.Bolsonaro says people who make up 1% of Brazil’s population should not have 12% of the land. He’s proposed allowing large-scale mining and farming on reservations.Related: Brazil's new president targets Amazon rainforestOn his first day in office, he issued an executive order preventing any more land being declared Indigenous territory. And he essentially moved the federal department responsible for Indigenous health care and education under the agriculture department — which likely would give farming interests more power over what happens to Indigenous land.Some Indigenous people agreed with those moves. But thousands of others marched on the capital, Brasília, to protest. In late April, they rallied there for three days.From the nearest big city, it takes half a day to drive to the heart of Raposa Serra do Sol. For the first hour’s drive, the countryside is dotted with farmland that looks like the American Midwest.Then, the paved road ends, and the Indigenous territory begins. From the bumpy, red dirt road, all you can see is flat Amazonian savanna, with dense trees and shrubs. Now, it’s back to being a home for 25,000 Indigenous people from multiple ethnic groups. They raise cattle and farm in what they say are sustainable ways.After another two hours’ drive, you’ll find an open-air building next to a lake. Indigenous leaders from different groups gathered there on a June afternoon. Indigenous leaders from different groups meet to discuss President Jair Bolsonaro’s threats to allow commercial farming in the Raposa Serra do Sol. Credit: Rupa Shenoy/The World “We need to demonstrate that the Indigenous aren’t going to stop, that the Indigenous are not isolated, that the Indigenous people also know how to get organized and know how to achieve their goals.”Anibal Laurentino Dimas, Guariba Indigenous community“We need to demonstrate that the Indigenous aren’t going to stop, that the Indigenous are not isolated, that the Indigenous people also know how to get organized and know how to achieve their goals,” Anibal Laurentino Dimas, a leader of the Guariba Indigenous community, told an audience of about 50 at the lake. Afterward, Dimas recalled the situation Native Americans in the US faced in the 1800s, when the government urged farmers to settle the land west of the Mississippi.“Today, we see the same thing happening here with the Brazilian president,” he said.Related: Bolsonaro's Brazil looks to America's pro-gun campaignersDimas points to another Brazilian state, Mato Grosso, where Indigenous groups recently starting allowing farmers and agribusinesses to rent land.“They were left without rights, without land, living on the streets,” he said. “And why? Because those communities accepted renters on land that belonged to them.”Dimas said he’s heard Bolsonaro say he wants to arm farmers who seek to reclaim the land. If that happens, he says they will decimate the Indigenous population. A missionary here explains why that fear is so real for the Indigenous people. The Raposa Serra do Sol is about the size of Hawaii. This is a lake next to a central meeting place for Indigenous groups.   Credit: Rupa Shenoy/The World “Indigenous [people,] they like fishing and also gathering of the fruits and also hunting. And these farmers, they would not allow them to enter the lands. If they did, they would be shot.”Gabriel Oloo, priest  “Indigenous [people,] they like fishing and also gathering of the fruits and also hunting. And these farmers, they would not allow them to enter the lands. If they did, they would be shot,” said Gabriel Oloo, a Roman Catholic priest from Kenya who’s here to preach to both the Indigenous people and farmers.He said in the past, it was like a war zone in the Raposa, with farmers attacking and shooting Indigenous people whom they saw as trespassers. Oloo says all that may begin again if Bolsonaro keeps encouraging farmers who still want their land back.Related: Brazil's Bolsonaro wants to mine on Indigenous lands — illegally“We hope it will not happen again,” Oloo said. “We are expecting this government to respect the rights of the Indigenous, as stated in the constitution. If their rights are respected, there will be no conflict.”Indigenous groups appear to have won the first round with Bolsonaro. Last month, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that the president didn’t have the power to move the department that oversees Indigenous health care and education into the agriculture department.It’s a victory for those who protested at the capital, like 19-year-old Carla Jarraira dos Santos. She plans to become a lawyer to defend Indigenous rights.“Nature’s perfect the way it is,” she said. “We, as Indigenous youth of Roraima, we carry this flag of sustainability. And we are here to strengthen the fight of our elders in our communities using the wisdom of our ancestors.” Carla Jarraira dos Santos, 19, plans to become a lawyer to defend Indigenous rights.    Credit: Rupa Shenoy/The World Dos Santos says especially now, with the threat of global warming, it’s important the land has a protector and advocate. And, she says, her people are its natural stewards.Itikawa remains skeptical.“My farm existed before there was the Indigenous land, Raposa Serra do Sol,” she said.Itikawa says Catholic missionaries and other outsiders interfered in the local situation and incited Indigenous people to reject commercial farming. But all Brazilians have a right to the land, Itikawa says, and she wants what she sees as the preferential treatment of Indigenous people to end.If anyone can make things right, she says, it’s her president, Bolsonaro. 

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#11

Australia's new rapid-removal law for violent videos may be a 'knee-jerk' reaction

April 05, 2019 • 4m

Imagine this: Mark Zuckerberg being extradited to Australia over a violent video a user posts on the platform.Seems far-fetched, but it's exactly what Australian lawmakers want to be able to do through a new law they approved this week.Picture Australia requesting extradition of Mark Zuckerberg:The country is exploring possible jail time for executives of social media companies that fail to police content like the Christchurch shooter's live streamhttps://t.co/a4dqQtukRF pic.twitter.com/k87A39g9MF— Christopher Mims 🎆 (@mims) March 27, 2019The point of the legislation is to get social media companies to move quickly to take down violent content that's posted on their platforms. The law, which passed Australia's parliament on Thursday, will fine social media and web hosting companies up to 10% of their annual global turnover and imprison executives for up to three years if videos showing terrorist attacks, murders, rape or kidnapping is not removed “expeditiously.”The new law is in response to last month's terror attack in neighboring New Zealand, where a lone gunman broadcasted his attack live on Facebook and the video was widely shared on several platforms before being removed.Australian Attorney General Christian Porter heralded the laws as a "world first in terms of legislating the conduct of social media and online platforms" but technology experts say the law is a "knee-jerk" overreaction by a government and a failure to truly address the issue.Nicholas Suzor, a law professor at Queensland University of Technology, says the legislation is too ambiguous.Related: New Zealand shooting video was 'made to make us watch it.' This professor says don't.“The real problem here is that it's actually quite vague about what platforms are required to do,” he said. “So, it's not clear how quickly a platform has to remove a video and particularly — even whether they need to know about it before they become criminally liable.”Even Porter, while supporting the law, couldn't explain.“Using the Christchurch example, I can't precisely say what would have been the point of time at which it would have been reasonable for them to understand that this was livestreaming on their site or playable on their site, and they should have removed it,” Porter said at a Thursday news conference after the bill passed both houses of parliament. “But what I can say, and I think every Australian would agree  — it was totally unreasonable that it should exist on their site for well over an hour without them taking any action whatsoever.”Australia is not the first country to try to hold social media companies accountable for what's posted on their sites.In Germany, for example, there is a law that says that social media companies have to remove hate speech, fake news, and other problematic content within 24 hours  — or face fines.The passage of this latest piece of legislation in Australia comes as governments around the world are scrambling to figure out the right way to regulate the internet, says Suzor.Related: New Zealand promises new gun laws within days. How can they move so fast?“What that means is that too often, we get knee-jerk reactions and sloppily designed laws that don't really understand how you could regulate tech companies in a way that preserves innovation and freedom of speech and access to information,” he says. “That's the big problem that we have. Not necessarily that countries want to regulate, but that they're going about it the wrong way.”Under Australia's new legislation, Suzor says there's a danger that companies will go overboard and take down legal content."In the past we've seen that these types of laws threaten legitimate speech a lot and they most often are minorities and disadvantaged groups."Nicholas Suzor, Queensland University of Technology“In the past we've seen that these types of laws threaten legitimate speech a lot and they most often are minorities and disadvantaged groups,” Suzor said, pointing to a video depicting the aftermath of the shooting of Philando Castile as an example of content that could inadvertently get taken down because of the new law.Castile was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota in July 2016. His girlfriend live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, and the video sparked protests and helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement. The officer involved in the shooting was later acquitted.  But under Australia’s new law, if Castile’s murder had been shown on the video instead of just its aftermath, it would be considered illegal.“This is something that is documented on social media,” Suzor says. “And it's not something that would be technically prohibited under this law. But there's no way that an algorithm can easily figure it out. So, my real concern here is that any technical response from the platforms will either be ineffective or much too broad in the type of content that it restricts.”Related: 'It feels like it happened right here,' says one American MuslimThis kind of legislation also creates uncertainty for Australia's tech industry, says Sarah Moran, who runs a company focused on getting girls and women into tech called Girl Geek Academy.“It makes my job really hard, particularly when you're talking to aspirational young people to say — I love that you want to build technology, but I cannot tell you what is on the horizon from the politicians that may choose to prevent you from doing that,” Moran says.“It’s much easier to pass a law to be able to restrict technology than to restrict the people that live and vote in Australia.”Sarah Moran, Girl Geek AcademyWhile technology firms have strongly opposed Australia’s content legislation, they say they are working to keep violent and problematic content off their platforms."We have zero tolerance for terrorist content on our platforms," said a spokesperson for Google in an emailed statement. "We are committed to leading the way in developing new technologies and standards for identifying and removing terrorist content."Facebook said last week it was exploring restrictions on who can access their live video-streaming service, depending on factors such as previous violations of the site's community standards."With the vast volumes of content uploaded to the internet every second, this is a highly complex problem," said Sunita Bose, managing director of Digital Industry Group, Inc., of which Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon and Twitter are members.Bose said the laws fail to understand the complexity of removing violent content.Moran agrees.“Technology doesn’t fight back,” she says. “It’s much easier to pass a law to be able to restrict technology than to restrict the people that live and vote in Australia.”Reuters contributed to this report.

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#12

A 'Pang!' of emotion, Gruff Rhys drops new album

September 19, 2019 • 5m

Gruff Rhys is known for Britain's indie rock band, Super Furry Animals. But the Welsh musician just dropped a groovy new solo album this month titled, "Pang!" The album is a collaboration with Muzi, a South African electronic artist and producer who worked with Rhys to put a new spin on his beats. Rhys spoke with The World's Carol Hills about the album, and the political issues it references. Carol Hills: Where did the title come from? The album's called Pang! with an exclamation point. I think of "pang" as a kind of tortuous emotion.Gruff Rhys: I think generally the album's quite uplifting and it's a hopeful record, but even on good days, especially these days, you know, you're having a good day and then you listen to the news or something and get a pang of reality, you know.Yeah, there's a lot of panging going on these days. I don't speak Welsh, but you do address political issues in your songs: distrust of authority, fake news, globalization. What about your climate change song, "Eli Haul," in Welsh? What are you saying in that song?That song's a really abstract song. It's not a protest song, as such, but I was trying to evoke a feeling of melting. I wanted to write lyrics and music that sounded like it was melting, so it's quite abstract. I think the climate crisis is on everybody's mind, especially as a touring musician. ... Also there's a global political crisis, especially in the short term, in particular, and in Wales and in the UK.Related: Folk trio The Young'uns uses music to question British patriotism  In 2016 you released the song, "I love EU." It was your song to show support for the Remain campaign in the UK. Now, more than two years later, since the Brexit vote, I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on the whole debate. What has surprised you the most?Yeah, that song came about during the time the Leave campaign was heavily driven by xenophobic marketing campaign. And the EU, you know, it's not a bed of roses. It's — from a socialist perspective — there's a democratic deficit for sure and the EU institutions, it's not perfect. But the Brexit being offered is driven by extreme capitalist ideology. What's your view now, though? This far along, have you changed the way you think or sing about — it sounds funny — issues like Brexit? What's your message now after all this time of hand-wringing?Well, I'm not a particularly effective protest singer. You know, I thought nobody, almost, was engaging with the referendum. I saw it as a frightening prospect. And I wanted to engage with it.Related: 5 reasons Americans ought to care about Brexit Do you see yourself as just a musician who wants to express your own thoughts and ideas musically, or do you feel like music for you, at this point, is a way to convey the really weighty issues that we're all facing around the world?Primarily it's a musical expression and, you know, music reaches beyond language. That's the power of it. And it's possible to evoke, you know, to create feelings. But then within that, the lyrics are reflections of my life. It's a diary of the time I'm living in.Your new album is a global sounding album and on the tune "Taranau Mai," I hear what sounds like tablas and a didgeridoo.Yeah, you're absolutely right. I didn't know how many people would pick up on that. We were in the studio mixing me and Muzi mentioned that the song was something really exotic to him, that the Welsh language sounded exotic, and we decided to put every exotic sound we could imagine in onto one track.This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

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#13

Coronavirus has changed how we transport goods and ourselves. But will it last?

April 03, 2020 • 6m

In Sweden there’s a word for the feeling of guilt when you take a plane ride that wasn’t exactly necessary: flygskam, which means “flight shame.”The culture of flight-shaming in Sweden is so ingrained, there is an offshoot concept called smygflygare, meaning “sneak flyer.” It describes a person who says they’re traveling by train but secretly takes a plane instead. The flygskam movement is seen as partly responsible for the 9% drop in Swedish domestic flights last year. But the coronavirus pandemic has done more to curb flying than any social movement ever could. Global air travel has plummeted since the crisis started. Airlines around the world have cut up to 95% of trips. Just about every part of the transportation sector has been upended by the pandemic: leisure travel, commuting and global shipping, to name a few. Related: Coronavirus is changing how people think about fighting climate changeAlthough many travel habits and systems will likely return to normal once the pandemic subsides, climate advocates hope the disruption could be a catalyst for systemic changes in how we transport our goods and ourselves. At least some of the behavioral changes resulting from social distancing measures may “stick,” they say — and that could be good news for the climate, too. Swedish singer-songwriter Staffan Lindberg, who wrote a 2017 article supporting flygskam, said he hopes the pandemic’s effects on global flying can be a moment of reflection for frequent flyers.“This coronavirus thing is like a rehearsal for being more sustainable in the future. I hope so.”Staffan Lindberg, Swedish singer-songwriter“I think people will get used to not flying,” said Lindberg, who is now living under lockdown Uppsala. “This coronavirus thing is like a rehearsal for being more sustainable in the future. I hope so.” Even though social distancing rules won’t be permanent, our reluctance to fly may outlast the pandemic. After September 11, 2001, another massive grounding event, it took three years for flying to return to normal levels.Disruptions to global supply chainsAviation isn’t the only transportation sector being upended by the pandemic: The crisis is also affecting international shipping. Mandarin Shipping, a Hong Kong-based international freighter shipping line, said its business is down 70% since January, and the Port of Virginia said it expects a 15-30% downturn in business. The American Association of Port Authorities estimated a 20% drop in business in the US. The virus has disrupted industrial activity around the world. Disruptions in manufacturing powerhouses like China have had ripple effects in supply chains around the world. “Countries are going to feel worried about relying on other countries for vital inputs. This experience is going to show people that maybe it's not desirable to be buying foods from all around the world and shipping foods all around the world.”Amy Meyers Jaffe, Council on Foreign Relations“Countries are going to feel worried about relying on other countries for vital inputs,” said Amy Meyers Jaffe, the director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations. “This experience is going to show people that maybe it's not desirable to be buying foods from all around the world and shipping foods all around the world.”Related: Is coronavirus reshuffling the global power deck?Jaffe argues the pandemic will be a wake-up call for countries and encourage them to bring some manufacturing and agriculture jobs closer to home. Even before coronavirus, shipping had taken a hit because of tensions over tariffs and the US-China trade war. Jaffe wonders whether the pandemic will be like putting oil on the fire,  encouraging the trend of less trade already underway. A boost for remote workThe pandemic has also impacted the everyday movements of billions of people. Government orders to stay home have resulted in drastic cuts to people’s day-to-day travel — particularly for commuting to and from work, which plays into another growing global trend of more remote work.“I think it could be a big catalyst that needed the economy to push itself towards remote work. This could be the real tectonic shift.”Prithwiraj Choudhury, Harvard Business School“I think it could be a big catalyst that needed the economy to push itself towards remote work. This could be the real tectonic shift,” said Prithwiraj Choudhury, a professor at Harvard Business School specializing in remote work.Good online tools such as Slack and Zoom, along with high demand from workers have made more companies turn to online work, said Choudhury. A 2018 global report from OWL labs, a video conferencing company, found more than half of companies surveyed allow some degree of remote work, up from previous years. Now with the pandemic, almost every company that can has adopted work-from-home policies. “Since it's playing out across almost every country, it'll be much more global and people will see the benefits [of remote work] in a multitude of ways,” Choudhury said. Related: What can COVID-19 teach us about the global climate crisis?Across sectors, across the world, carbon emissions are down. At the virus’ peak in China, emissions dropped 25%, according to data from the  Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.  Analysts are predicting a similar drop for Europe’s biggest polluters. Given the dramatic decrease in emissions, the pandemic may help some countries hit targets under the Paris Agreement that seemed out of reach pre-COVID-19. But will habits stick?Most of the changes will be short-lived. But echoing Choudhury, Jillian Anable, transport and energy expert at the University of Leeds, says if some of the behaviors stick, it would help countries cut emissions in their transportation sectors. “What this shows is that we can adapt. There is a lot of travel that we do that is discretionary and we can pull it back.”Jillian Anable, University of Leeds“What this shows is that we can adapt,” said Anable. “There is a lot of travel that we do that is discretionary and we can pull it back.”The pandemic has resulted in people shopping less frequently and generally sticking closer to home. These actions would help us cut carbon emissions if they become long-term habits.“We need people to shop locally. We need people to do much more leisure locally,” Anable said. “We need people to do online shopping and work from home and do business trips from home where they can.”Anable hopes that the virus will change what’s considered “normal” when it comes to how we move around. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that what’s “normal” can change dramatically and quickly to protect public health — and maybe the climate too.“We can't use this crisis as a reason to ignore the other crisis, which is climate change, because that hasn't gone away,” Anable said. “We've just got two crises now. And we need to make them work together.”

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#14

UN climate summit asks for 'specific actions' to hit Paris targets

September 19, 2019 • 4m

World leaders will meet in New York on Monday for a United Nations climate summit organized by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in attempt to “sound the alarm” on what he calls a defining moment in the climate crisis.“Climate change is moving faster than we are,” he said when announcing the summit last year. “The leaders of the world need to step up.”Related: Top US leadership is 'missing ingredient' in climate change actionGuterres has asked countries to come to the summit with specific plans for how they intend to cut carbon emissions in line with the most recent science, which says global greenhouse gas emissions must fall 45% by 2030 and reach “net zero” by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.In an unusual move, Guterres has even said the summit's main stage will be reserved for countries and coalitions announcing ambitious new carbon-cutting goals or contributions to a fund to help developing countries fight and adapt to climate change.“It's a meeting which has been called not to listen to speeches, but to look into specific actions.”Luis Alfonso de Alba, UN special Envoy for the  climate summit“It's a meeting which has been called not to listen to speeches, but to look into specific actions,” the UN’s Special Envoy for the summit, Luis Alfonso de Alba, told The World.Guterres and his team have been crisscrossing the globe to meet with heads of state in what de Alba calls a “very intense” diplomatic program to spur more aggressive action on climate change.Related: Why 2020 is a key year for climate actionThe secretary-general’s diplomatic efforts have focused on G20 countries, which produce about 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Guterres has met with several heads of state from the G20 and sent letters to each with specific requests.In a May letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, for example, he asked the European Union to commit to cutting its carbon emissions 55% by 2030, an increase from the 40% promise the EU made when it signed onto the Paris Agreement.This, Guterres wrote, would send “a powerful message of leadership and commitment towards meeting the goals” of the Paris Agreement. De Alba said he hopes the summit elicits new carbon-cutting promises from a majority of countries, including large emitters China and India. But just how many will set new targets in time to announce them in New York “is something that we will see at the summit,” he said.Related: With an Indigenous perspective, Anchorage seeks to adapt to climate change even if Alaska doesn’tThis diplomatic wrangling is all aimed at increasing global climate ambition ahead of a key 2020 deadline.When countries brokered the landmark Paris climate accord back in 2015, they agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, with an effort to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius.But the pledges each country made, called the “nationally determined contributions” in UN parlance, don’t get the world anywhere close to that goal.“If you take the collective commitments from all the parties, they actually don't add up to the temperature targets under Paris.”Andrew Light, World Resources Institute fellow“If you take the collective commitments from all the parties, they actually don't add up to the temperature targets under Paris,” said Andrew Light, a former State Department climate negotiator who worked on the Paris accord.The climate pact was written to start slow and then let countries “ratchet up” their ambition in five-year cycles.Related: Spain's coal miners continue to wait for their country's 'Green New Deal'“We’re now approaching the first ratcheting mechanism that’s mentioned in the agreement,” Light said.By 2020, countries are expected to set new nationally determined contributions. But for the most part, they’re actually voluntary. A majority of countries could stick with the commitments they made before signing the Paris accord, which globally put the world on track for about 3 degrees Celsius of warming.The summit next week is aimed at putting pressure on world leaders to be more aggressive.“When your boss shows up to something, they’ve got to be able to announce something. They don't go empty-handed. The meeting itself creates a kind of a forcing event.”Andrew Light, World Resources Institute fellow“We have an old saying in government service,” said Light, who is a fellow at the World Resources Institute. “When your boss shows up to something, they’ve got to be able to announce something. They don't go empty-handed. The meeting itself creates a kind of a forcing event.”The summit Monday will be similar to a meeting the UN held in the fall of 2014, a year before the Paris accord was brokered. But there was a key difference back then: The US had been working behind the scenes for years to help pave the way for the landmark 2015 agreement. That’s not happening this time around. President Donald Trump has announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, a move that can be completed next fall.The US will be represented at the summit by a deputy assistant secretary from the State Department but is not expected to make any big mainstage announcements.

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#15

Unprecedented floods in Iran have brought people together

April 26, 2019 • 7m

Since March, Iran has been ravaged by record rainfall and unprecedented flash flooding. At least 26 of 31 provinces have been impacted by the deadly floods. One city received 70% of its annual rainfall in a single day. Dozens of people have died."This is the largest disaster to hit Iran in more than 15 years," Zahra Falahat, the Iranian Red Crescent’s under secretary general for international affairs and international humanitarian law, said in a statement. "Entire villages [were] washed away in a matter of minutes, countless homes and buildings [were] damaged and completely destroyed.Related: In El Salvador, climate change means less coffee, and more migrantsPictures and videos posted on social media show total destruction. A video posted on Twitter shows cars and trucks being tossed around in the water, like toys. One car floats by while a man clings to its roof.The Iranian government has been accused of mismanaging the response to the disaster, with some residents of afflicted areas complaining that action has been slow and insufficient. But Iran's Red Crescent has repeatedly complained that US banking sanctions reimposed last year make it impossible to receive donations from outside the country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put the blame on Iran's leaders.Related: Legally, 'climate refugees' don't exist. But in Georgia, they say they're already here."These floods once again show the level of Iranian regime mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness. The regime blames outside entities when, in fact, it is their mismanagement that has led to this disaster," Pompeo said in a statement. Ali Asaei, who lives in Tehran, Iran, collected donations for residents of the flooded areas. Credit: Ali Asaei While the political finger-pointing continues, Iranian volunteers have been stepping up to help.One of them is Ali Asaei, a Tehran-based photographer. Speaking from his home, Asaei says when he heard about the floods, he knew immediately he had to help.After all, he’d seen how messy aid distribution can get in Iran in the aftermath of disasters. Last year, after an earthquake hit western Iran, he volunteered to help. He says he saw some survivors receive an abundance of aid while others went without. After the recent floods, Asaei posted a story on his Instagram page and asked for donations. In just one day, he collected about $6,000, mostly from his friends and family. Then, he went shopping. He bought tents, blankets and sanitary napkins, something that he says people often forget in times of disasters. Through friends and connections, he made sure the roads were safe enough to pass and that his presence wouldn't hurt any other relief effort on the ground. Then, he loaded the supplies to the back of his SUV and headed toward western Iran.Asaei shared a recording from one arduous trek to deliver aid to a small village that's completely surrounded by water from an overflowing river. There is no road — just water. Eventually, Asaei and a couple of other men find a boat. When they cross to the other side, locals run toward them to collect the aid.Having volunteered to help after a string of disasters in recent years, Asaei says he's conflicted. On the one hand, he says, he doesn’t want to do what the government should be doing. On the other, he knows if people like him don’t help, maybe nobody will. The Iranian government didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Kaveh Madani, who used to be the deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment, said he is disturbed about the response to the floods. "To see the people of your country going through all these troubles which could have been avoided with some planning and foresight," he said.Madani went to school in the US and Europe. In 2017, he went back to Iran to work at the Ministry of Environment. He was critical of the government’s environmental policies — specifically, how it has mishandled water management for decades. "There was a group of hard-liners and radicals who were operating for years in a certain way. They were not happy with my statements," Madani said."They blamed me for my efforts to ratify the Paris Agreement, arguing that I wanted to limit development in the country, you know — the same argument that Donald Trump is making about the Paris Agreement and how destructive it is to the economy."Kaveh Madani, Yale University, researcherAmong other things, he thought the government was ignoring the effects of climate change on rainfall. And the need to better prepare. The response was fierce: "They called me a 'water terrorist;' they called me a "bioterrorist,"" explained Madani. "They blamed me for my efforts to ratify the Paris Agreement, arguing that I wanted to limit development in the country, you know — the same argument that Donald Trump is making about the Paris Agreement and how destructive it is to the economy."After roughly six months on the job, Madani resigned. He left Iran and is now a researcher at Yale University.Today, he shakes his head at the Iranian government’s response to the floods."You know, why they’re operating this way. Why they’re not prepared at all for evacuation and rescuing the victims and so on." Young volunteers give free haircuts to flood survivors in western Iran's Khuzestan Province.  Credit: Ali Asaei Meanwhile, neighboring countries like Afghanistan and Iraq have also been impacted by the floods. And the governments in the region weren’t the only ones caught off guard.Jay Famiglietti directs the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. He’s studied water and climate change for decades."For someone like me who is a hydrologist and a climate scientist who’s been watching this region just dry out progressively for about a third of my professional career and then to turn on the news a month ago and start to hear about all these floods, it’s really crazy."Jay Famiglietti, Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan"For someone like me who is a hydrologist and a climate scientist who’s been watching this region just dry out progressively for about a third of my professional career and then to turn on the news a month ago and start to hear about all these floods, it’s really crazy," Famiglietti said.Climate change is leading to more extreme weather around the world, he says. It is causing worse droughts, heat waves and bigger storms.It can also mean more sudden swings between these extremes.Famiglietti says climate change probably played a role in the flip between drought and flood in Iran."Another way to think of it is, would this have happened with the severity if climate change were not happening? And the answer is probably no," he said. Famiglietti believes this is the new reality. And countries like Iran need to get ready."With this increasing frequency of these catastrophic floods, we do have to ramp up our emergency response, our preparedness all over the world," he said.Editor's note: Full disclosure: Ali Asaei is a friend of the reporter's. 

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#17

Fires and coronavirus are a deadly combination for the Amazon’s Indigenous people

July 02, 2020 • 5m

Last year’s fires in the Amazon captured the world’s attention. They raged across Brazil, engulfing the recently deforested Amazon jungle. Smoke darkened São Paulo’s skies more than a thousand miles away.Ranchers, loggers and businessmen in the state of Pará organized simultaneous illegal blazes last year on Aug. 10, which they called “the day of fire.” It jump-started the wave of fires across the Amazon.Fires in the Amazon are rarely unintentional: They’re man-made in order to clear pastures or recently deforested land.Related: Black Lives Matter protests renew parallel debates in Brazil, ColombiaIn widespread protests last year, demonstrators demanded government action to stop the blazes, denouncing the destruction of the forest, the encroachment on Indigenous land, and the health risks for local communities. After weeks of international pressure, President Jair Bolsonaro reluctantly agreed to send in thousands of firefighting troops.Now, as the dry season begins in the Amazon, the fires are starting again. Scientists believe this year’s fires could be worse than last year. Already, the number of fires last month was a 13-year high for June. Beyond the obvious environmental impact, there are major concerns over the toll these fires may take on peoples’ health, particularly for Indigenous communities already battling the coronavirus.Related: Coronavirus spread threatens Colombia's Amazonian Indigenous communitiesSo far, there are no signs of the fires slowing down amid the pandemic. Bolsonaro has long promised to push development in the region. And with government monitoring and fines for illegal logging practically suspended, Brazil has seen a huge jump in the destruction of the Amazon over the last year. It’s nearly doubled. An area larger than the size of Delaware, according to an analysis by The World, was cut down between August 2019 and this past April.Half of the deforestation this year has been on protected land, including Indigenous territories.“If we have more deforestation, we can expect to have more fires. From August of last year, through this year, we are already in one of the years that we have had more deforestation since 2008.”Ane Alencar, Amazon Environmental Research Institute“If we have more deforestation, we can expect to have more fires. From August of last year, through this year, we are already in one of the years that we have had more deforestation since 2008,” said Ane Alencar, the director of science at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute.The fires also pose health risks. Related: Brazil's government hid coronavirus stats. That's a problem.“Whenever we have the fire season, we have an increase in hospitalization because of respiratory diseases,” said Marcia Castro, a professor and chair of the global health and population department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “We may end up with a scenario where there are all those people suffering from respiratory diseases. The respiratory diseases increase the vulnerability to COVID[-19]. We also have the season of malaria coming up, and some people may need hospitalization. So, different layers of ways the health system can collapse in the middle of a pandemic.”Many of the hospitals in the Amazon are already at capacity as COVID-19 has hit the region hard. Altamira is a prime example. Located along the Transamazon highway in the state of Pará, it’s the only city with an intensive care unit for hundreds of miles. Yet, it has only 18 beds and it serves a population of more than 400,000.“Our reality is that we don’t have any open ICU beds. Our system is already collapsed. And there is a possibility that it can get much worse if the virus is not contained, and it spreads throughout the Indigenous territories.”Dr. Renan Rocha Granato, Regional Hospital“Our reality is that we don’t have any open ICU beds,” said Dr. Renan Rocha Granato, during a phone interview in the middle of his shift in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the Regional Hospital. “Our system is already collapsed. And there is a possibility that it can get much worse if the virus is not contained, and it spreads throughout the Indigenous territories.”It’s possible it may do just that. Already, 407 tribal members have died in Brazil, according to the National Committee for Indigenous Life and Memory. Almost 10,000 Indigenous people have been infected, across 119 tribes. That number is rising exponentially.According to reports, half of the residents of some Indigenous villages have been infected. Many leaders have already died, including Paulinho Paiakan, one of the most historic indigenous Brazilians.More than 100 members of the Xavante tribe have come down with the virus in Mato Grosso do Sul.Related: Bolsonaro’s ‘so what’ response to coronavirus deaths is the latest in his spiraling political crisisThe Yanomami have launched a global campaign to remove thousands of illegal miners from their land, who they say are not only threatening their land and environment but also pushing the spread of the coronavirus across their territory.“These are already historically vulnerable populations. Not just biologically, in terms of their lower immunity to diseases, but also politically, because the state was always absent in terms of public policies,” said Indigenous lawyer Dinaman Tuxá. “But the Bolsonaro government has become even more absent, pushing decisions that have led to the shocking numbers of infected in the Indigenous populations.”On Tuesday, Indigenous organizations filed an action with Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court to demand that the government take measures to protect Indigenous peoples from the pandemic, by removing illegal invaders from their territories and offering special health attention for all Indigenous peoples.But the fires are on the horizon and many are concerned. Last year, the city of Novo Progresso, in western Pará, was ground zero.“This is a region that was really impacted by the fires. We are very worried for this year, also as monitoring of deforestation in the region has decreased.”Junio Martins de Oliveira, Kabu Institute“This is a region that was really impacted by the fires. We are very worried for this year, also as monitoring of deforestation in the region has decreased,” said Junio Martins de Oliveira, who works with the Kabu Institute, which represents 1,200 Indigenous Kayapó people who live on two territories near Novo Progresso and the Tapajós river.Related: Brazilian Supreme Court orders probe into Bolsonaro accusationsMartins de Oliveira said fighting the coronavirus is the top priority now, as 20 of their members have come down with the virus. But the fires are coming.Last year’s blazes burned some of the Kayapó land. Smoke choked their villages. Indigenous peoples say they hope the government will take action to stop farmers, loggers and land-grabbers from setting the fires. But there’s little political will. With even fewer government resources and less oversight due to the pandemic, communities are bracing for the worst.According to Martins de Oliveira, members of the Kabu Institute met this week with environmental officials in Novo Progresso and asked if they would be taking any actions in Indigenous territories against deforestation and mining ahead of the fire season. They said they were short-staffed and didn’t have the means at the moment.“That’s very concerning for us,” Martins de Oliveira said. “Because protecting Indigenous territories is not a priority for the government right now.”

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#18

French protesters turn climate conversation — and Macron — upside down

August 26, 2019 • 3m

As the three-day G7 summit wrapped up in the town of Biarritz in southwestern France on Aug. 26, French President Emmanuel Macron declared success as he stood next to US President Donald Trump and said the gathering was productive and efficient. Meanwhile, French protesters in the neighboring town of Bayonne carried hundreds of official portraits of Macron turned upside down in protest against his climate change policies.Nearly 130 portraits had been stolen from various town halls around France. The unusual protest tactics were part of larger protests in Bayonne, during which French riot police used water cannons and tear gas on Aug. 24 to disperse anti-capitalism protesters.A police helicopter circled as dozens of protesters, some hurling stones, shouted slogans and abuse at the lines of police in the Basque town's historic center.Anne-Sophie Trujillo is an activist with the nonprofit ANV-COP 21 that helped organize the portrait protests near the G7 summit this weekend. They believe President Macron is guilty of inaction on climate change. "With this march our aim was to demonstrate that pictures of our President Emmanuel Macron are far from the reality in terms of climate change here in France," said Trujillo.Related: Europe's latest heatwave is part of a 'new normal' Marco Werman: I think a lot of people will be surprised — often, Macron has been thought of as a leader who is very tough on climate change and bringing action forward. Where has he fallen short in your opinion? Anne-Sophie Trujillo: There are nice pictures but the solutions are not there. We do have ... correct targets for 2050, but since the Paris agreement was signed four years ago, all our indicators are in the red. We don't have enough local measures in terms of renovation for the development of public transportation, for instance, ... on aviation. We need action to reduce aerial transportation, we do need to have more rail transportation. We have a solution that exists but the government is deaf — never at the local level, at the national level, taking steps that have to be done to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions that are raising up and up in France. And so we will never meet our... objective in 2050. We need now no more "blah blah," no more speeches between actions. The march itself is being called Le Marche des Portraits — The Portraits March — because of the portraits of President Macron that you were carrying while you were demonstrating holding them upside down. Where did those come from and why were they necessary?We have decided to remove the portraits from the town halls because of the legal recourses that have been made by Greenpeace and other organizations against France, because the government is not doing enough for action to tackle climate change. So we have this campaign of décrochons Macron. We have [taken] more than 120 portraits. We are on trial for that. There are more than 18 trials that are taking place in France. Yes, it's décrochons Macron — that's like, take down Macron. You're literally doing that by taking these portraits off the walls. They were stolen and you're going to trial for this. Is it worth it? Yes, it is. Definitely. I think it is because we are demonstrating without violence. The coverage has been very good. On Sunday, for the march, more than 900 persons were there responding to our call. They came with empty frames. Police did not intervene. And we are capturing the public attention. Notably, President Trump was not at that climate change breakout meeting of the G7 and he's still downplaying the effects of climate change. In fairness, shouldn't you also be carrying upside down Trump portraits? Maybe we should — if we can get some. Editor's note: This interview was edited and condensed for clarity. Reuters contributed to this report. 

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#19

Brazil faces international backlash over Amazon fires, deforestation

August 23, 2019 • 4m

Amid growing global condemnation, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro said on Friday he may mobilize the army to help combat a record number of fires sweeping through the Amazon rainforest.The Trump administration said it was "deeply concerned" about the wildfires and European leaders ratcheted up criticism of Brazil's handling of the crisis, which now looks set to be discussed at a summit of G7 leaders in France this weekend.French President Emmanuel Macron's office went so far as to accuse Bolsonaro of lying when he downplayed concerns over climate change at the G20 summit in June, and said that France would now oppose the farming deal struck in June between the European Union and the Mercosur countries of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.Related: The Amazon used to be a hedge against climate change. Those days may be over.Stung by the international outcry, Brazil distributed a 12-page circular, exclusively seen by Reuters, to foreign embassies, outlining data and statistics defending the government's reputation on the environment.Having first dismissed the fires as natural, then blaming nongovernmental organizations without evidence for lighting them, Bolsonaro struck a more serious note on Friday, saying he would summon top cabinet members to tailor a response.Related: Indigenous tribes are the last best hope for the Amazon Asked by reporters in Brasília if he would send in the army, he said, "That is the expectation."A government spokesman in Germany called the wildfires "shocking and threatening, not only for Brazil."The World's Marco Werman spoke to Oliver Stuenkel, a professor at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, about the global and Brazilian reactions to the fires. That quote from Germany about Brazil is significant because both Germany and France are part of the G7 summit this weekend, and they want Brazil's wildfires on the agenda. What has been the response in Brazil to this urgent call from Germany and France?In Brazil, I would say there's been, of course, a mixed response. I mean, the government, in particular, is very much aligned with a traditional way of thinking about the Amazon, very much in terms not of climate change, but actually in terms of sovereignty, protecting the forest not from destruction, but actually from outside intervention. So, there's a long-standing fear and now this has come to the fore again, and the president of Brazil, Bolsanaro, has been very clear to reject any kind of criticism and saying: "This is part of a conspiracy." He also questions the data that actually the Brazilian government itself has produced on deforestation, which has led to the ouster of one of the scientists who has led this effort. The opposition, of course, has been very critical of Indigenous populations and interestingly enough, agribusiness is very worried because there is a growing consensus among economists, among politicians that this situation may actually lead to consumer boycotts against Brazilian products. But the president, so far, has been very clear that he is unwilling to take more active action against climate change. Bolsanaro himself does not believe in climate change."This has never happened before that the international community considers the environmental policy of one particular country a national security threat. And I think the government of Brazil is, for the first time, facing this international backlash." Are you able, though, to draw a line directly from his policies to the massive wildfires we're seeing right now?I think there's two sets of things. The first is, he has actively undermined the bureaucracy that previous governments had set up to monitor deforestation, to disincentivize deforestation, to punish illegal logging. He's openly questioned the rationale behind these policies, but it's just one element. I think the wildfires are a symbol of a much larger problem that, at this stage, this government in Brazil is unwilling to invest in protecting the Amazon. So, in that sense, the deforestation has been increasing massively over the past eight months. And I think worse is to come — I mean, a lot of this is just beginning now. And this is a new chapter in international relations. This has never happened before, that the international community considers the environmental policy of one particular country a national security threat. And I think the government of Brazil is, for the first time, facing this international backlash. At this stage, I don't expect Brazil's climate policy to change in the near or medium term.Related: A 'Third Way' to save the Amazon: make trees more valuable Meanwhile, the fires continue to burn and the skies are just filled with smoke. What plans does the Brazilian government have right now to fight and contain these fires?The government has set up a crisis committee, but that's more in reaction to the international outcry. The government will, of course, seek to reduce the impact that's visible to the entire population. Last week, in Sâo Paolo, we had dark skies. It felt like it was nighttime at about 2 p.m. suddenly because there was clouds mixed with ashes from the forest burning, and this was a very powerful moment when a lot of people just looked up and said: "Why is it dark?" This brought this home to many people, and even though local governments can, to some extent, address this situation, I'm quite pessimistic that without the help of the federal government, Brazil can make much progress on this front.This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Reuters contributed to this report. 

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#20

Russia-China pipeline shows growing alliance in reaction to US foreign policy

December 05, 2019 • 4m

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping finalized a new energy deal in which a giant oil pipeline will connect the two countries. The deal is being called the Power of Siberia. It's expected to boost political and economic ties between Russia and China. The pipeline reflects Moscow’s attempts to pivot to the East to try to mitigate pain from Western financial sanctions imposed over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.Livia Paggi specializes in political risk for GPW, a consulting firm in London. She spoke to The World's host Marco Werman about how the pipeline could shape Russia-China relations — and what their alliance means for global politics. Related: Pompeo warns that NATO should confront ‘emerging threats’ from Russia and ChinaMarco Werman: Livia, what do you make of this Russia-China oil pipeline? Livia Paggi: This pipeline really can't be understood without taking into consideration [US President Donald] Trump's foreign policy and what it's done over the past few years to really drive China and Russia's relations and bringing them much closer together. I mean, since Trump's come into power, we've seen a rolling out of aggressive sanctions against Russia. And we've also seen simultaneously Trump driving forward a very aggressive trade war against China. The result has been that Russia and China have really become much closer on a number of fronts. And this pipeline is a very clear example of that deepening relationship. Related: How does China’s Communist Party view Trump’s impeachment inquiry?  I know for a while political analysts were in disagreement on whether Russia and China's relationship was improving. I mean, would you say today that this oil pipeline just dismisses those disagreements? Well, it's a complicated relationship. It's a relationship between two great powers. So it's a combination of wanting to cooperate, but also competition. We've seen a number of clear examples of where the relationship has actually materialized in practice. The pipeline is one example. Gas will be physically flowing from Russia to China, and it will be bypassing Europe and the West. So that's very concrete.We've also seen, they started doing joint military exercises last year in Vostok. This was unheard of before for Russia and China to have such close military relationships. So these are some very concrete examples of how they've cooperated. As I said in the beginning, there's also a relationship of competition, right? China's economy is eight times that of Russia. So China clearly has the upper hand in this dynamic, which means that Russia has much weaker negotiating power. So it's mixed, I would say. What worries you the most about this growing Russia-China alliance? Are you worried? Well, I think the China-Russia alliance highlights that the jury is still out on whether Trump's foreign policy can actually be effective or not. There's been some experts that highlight, you know, maybe we need an aggressive foreign policy, and this is how we can get the best deal for the US, whereas others have been more skeptical. And when you see an alliance like this growing — and they're having greater influence in the Middle East and Africa, these are countries where, traditionally, the US has also had influence — it makes you question what is the long-term game of Trump's foreign policy and whether it will actually bring any benefits to the US or not on a global scale. Related: The Russian government has even more control of the internet nowDo you think Trump's foreign policy will respond to how the Russia-China relationship evolves, and what are you going to be looking for as it moves ahead? The most important thing I think is really worrying is to what extent Russia and China will align themselves militarily and also in terms of disinformation and cyberattacks, because that is something that would hurt the US greatly. So I think whether you see them actually materializing on that front, that's going to be the indicator of the level of threat to the US.  This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Reuters contributed to this report. 

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