The World Today for December 17, 2018

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Huffing and Puffing

Solar power might someday make polluting fossil fuels unnecessary, but only if pollution from these clears up sufficiently first.

A last-minute deal that will make the Paris climate pact operational in 2020 saved the meeting from total failure, but as world leaders met at the annual United Nations climate summit in Poland last week, scientists worldwide said they were worried about how smog is reducing the amount of energy that solar panels can produce.

“There’s no question – you get the particulates out of the air, you get more solar,” energy professor Dan Kammen of the University of California, Berkeley told Popular Science.

China is likely one of the biggest culprits here.

Reuters recently reported that Chinese officials have triggered 79 serious air pollution alerts in cities that included Beijing. The alerts force factories and power plants to cut output. That pollution is harming South Korea. Bike sharing is helping, wrote the Washington Post. But – excuse the pun – don’t hold your breath.

Such developments led Foreign Policy to wonder whether and when Beijing officials might consider another economic model for the workshop of the world.

“China’s industrial output and carbon dioxide emissions growth are slowing down, and the leadership is confronted with a trillion-dollar question: whether to unleash another gigantic construction boom with a stimulus package … or whether to finally embark on a transition to higher-quality, more sustainable growth,” the online magazine wrote.

China is not alone, of course. In terms of the number of people living in heavily polluted areas, India is now worse off than its larger neighbor, the Financial Times reported.

Air pollution killed 1.2 million people in India last year, wrote the Telegraph of India. The newspaper blamed officials for ignoring the problem. To lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, the massive country’s growing economy needs cars and factories. For the poor to survive, they need to burn wood and crop residue.

Meanwhile, some of the deadliest smog in North America hangs in the air of the industrialized towns on the Mexican border with the US, according to the Palm Springs Desert Sun.

The developed world’s air is far from perfect, too.

In October, the European Union’s environmental agency said air quality was slowly improving but pollution levels were still above health limits, the Associated Press reported. In Bulgaria, protests formed over air quality in the capital of Sofia. In Germany, protesters in Berlin and elsewhere have been hitting the streets recently to protest delays in closing coal mines, while the European Union gets ready to hit the country with sanctions over its failure to meet air quality requirements.

Los Angeles has long been notorious for smog, along with other California cities. But even the state’s fertile San Joaquin Valley is “awash in air pollution,” Mother Jones found.

One doesn’t need to believe in or care about climate change to want to clean up the air.

But for those who do worry about climate change – like the 415 investors managing $32 trillion in assets who told leaders in Poland to take action or face a financial crisis – curbing greenhouse gas emissions might help humanity breathe easier while saving the planet.




Kosovo voted Friday to transform its existing security force into a 5,000-troop army, plus 3,000 reservists, sparking an immediate threat from Serbia that the move could prompt a military response.

All 107 MPs present in Kosovo’s 120-seat parliament in Pristina voted in favor of passing three draft laws to expand the existing security force, the UK’s Independent newspaper reported. Ethnic Serb politicians in Kosovo boycotted the vote.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the move could destabilize the region, saying, “The North Atlantic Council will now have to re-examine the level of Nato’s engagement with the Kosovo Security Force.” But the US welcomed the proposed transformation, saying it supported “Kosovo’s sovereign right” to an army.

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said the new army “will never be used against” Serbia. But Belgrade was not convinced. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday denounced the US for supporting the move and accused Kosovo and its backers in Washington as wanting to “quash” the Serbs.

With thousands rallying against his autocratic rule in Belgrade, however, Vucic has plenty to worry about at home.


State-Run Rap?

State-run media outlets are one thing, but state-run rap? That’s what Russian President Vladimir Putin may propose as the answer to the growing popularity of a musical genre he said could lead to “a nation’s degradation.”

Following a crackdown that has resulted in several concerts being canceled and the brief arrest of a popular rap artist, Husky, Putin said Saturday that such measures could be counterproductive and suggested that the authorities “take charge” of rap instead, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

“How to do this, how to take charge and guide in the necessary direction … That’s the most important issue,” Putin said, saying his administration would discuss how to do that with the culture ministry.

After his concert in Krasnodar, in southern Russia, was canceled, Husky attempted to perform from the roof of a car, prompting his arrest for hooliganism. He claims the authorities are trying to suppress his music because his lyrics are critical of the government.

Public outcry over his sentence to 12 days in jail resulted in him being released early, as well as Putin’s ruminations on the genre.


Rejecting Gandhi

The University of Ghana in Accra has taken down a statue of Mohandas K. Gandhi, more commonly known as the Mahatma, or “great soul,” after a petition drew attention to his racist views regarding black Africans.

In India, of course, Gandhi became known for his dogged, nonviolent opposition to British colonialism. But his profile is more problematic in Africa, where he lived and worked as a lawyer in South Africa, the Washington Post noted.

In their petition for the removal of the statue, professors, students and Ghanaians drew attention to Gandhi’s denigration of “savage” black Africans in his advocacy for preferential treatment of Indians in South Africa, as well as his frequent use of the term “Kaffir” – the utterance of which is now a hate crime in that country.

Some Indians also object to what they describe as his patronizing views toward people from the castes historically viewed as untouchables, whom he called “Harijans” or “the children of God.” But South African supporters, including Gandhi’s granddaughter, objected to the statue’s removal as “a judgmental statement about a person based on one or two statements,” the Press Trust of India reported.


Green Shades

Air pollution and carbon dioxide are becoming more problematic in urban areas around the world.

To address the problem, two European architects recently developed plant-filled plastic curtains to help purify the air in cities, NBC News reported.

The curtains contain a network of tubes filled with microscopic algae that feed on CO2 and convert it to oxygen through photosynthesis.

“Microalgae have exceptional properties that have been discovered by biologists that allow them to re-metabolize some of the waste that our city generates,” said Claudia Pasquero, one of the developers of the algae curtains.

Last month, they tested an early prototype in Ireland, hanging more than a dozen panels over the first and second floors of Dublin Castle. The eco-friendly drapes sucked up more than two pounds of CO2 each day, or nearly the same amount as 20 large trees.

Skeptics question the sustainability of the curtains. The panels don’t offer shade and need to be changed every two to three years, unlike trees.

The team, however, argued that shade feature could be added, and the curtain might be more effective in cold areas where trees barely grow.

They might not replace trees, but they provide a holistic solution to smog.

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