The World Today for August 05, 2021

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The Invasion of the Nurdle

First, smoke from the burning container ship X-Press Pearl polluted the skies off Sri Lanka’s west coast. Now, Sri Lankans are watching as the vessel’s cargo pollutes the sea around their island nation to the south of India. The X-Press Pearl caught fire on May 20 while hauling 350 metric tons of oil and 81 containers of hazardous materials, which include toxic chemicals that make fertilizer and 80 tons of plastic pellets, CNN reported.

Whales, dolphins and hundreds of other sea creatures have washed up on Sri Lanka’s beaches since the disaster.

The ship’s Singapore-based operator, X-Press Feeders, told the New York Times that nitric acid had been leaking from a container but Indian and Qatari officials had denied the firm’s request to offload the flammable cargo. The newspaper added that the tiny plastic pellets dumped into the sea called “nurdles,” clog the digestive systems of sea life.

White pellets cover formerly pristine beaches. It’s not clear when they will stop washing up upon the shore. “It’s a beach that I’ve been to many times before,” marine biologist Asha de Vos said in an interview with National Public Radio in Colombo, the capital, where tiny plastic pellets covered the beach. “It’s that idyllic tropical beach with the palm trees and the beautiful sand.”

Sri Lankan officials are investigating. Writing in the Conversation, however, Deakin University Law Lecturer Claudio Bozzi suggested that the world could learn some important lessons from the disaster immediately. Mis-declared cargo could cause more than 150,000 container ship fires annually, he wrote. Ever-larger super container ships have more opportunities to catch fire, too. Rules mandating onboard firefighting are outdated.

Shipping companies have a reason to step up their game.

The scope of the Sri Lankan disaster is becoming more clear as two major environmental groups issued a study that accused 15 companies of responsibility for the tons of greenhouse gas emissions that fossil-fueled ships emit annually. Ships importing goods for retailers from abroad produce as much emissions as tens of millions of cars and trucks in the US.

That international shipping fleet has quadrupled since the 1980s, Fast Company wrote, adding that environmentalists and others want shippers to bear the cost of that pollution, making it more expensive while helping domestic companies that aren’t part of those long supply chains. Walmart expects to eliminate 100 billion tons of emissions through US manufacturing rather than foreign suppliers.

There are proposals to make the owners of polluting ships pay. The Sri Lankans are certainly interested.



A Shot in the Dark

European nations are planning to give booster shots to the fully inoculated to counter the spread of the coronavirus Delta variant, a deeply controversial move that has raised concerns about the global supply of vaccines, the Washington Post reported.

Germany, France and Britain announced this week they are planning to roll out booster shots in September for the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Spain and Italy have also proposed the use of an additional shot.

Meanwhile, Hungary is offering booster shots to anyone, while campaigns for additional jabs are being organized in Russia and Israel.

Meanwhile, scientists and advocates warned that it is too early to implement a booster shot. They emphasized that more data is required to determine whether these are needed, while others disagreed about whether and when extra vaccines are necessary.

The issue has also become a moral and ethical conundrum because vaccination campaigns have progressed in wealthy countries but have lagged in poorer ones.

The World Health Organization denounced the move as immoral, while the European Union’s foreign policy chief admonished the bloc for its “insufficient” vaccine shipments to countries in Africa and Latin America.

Analysts note how only 3.6 percent of the population in African countries has been partially vaccinated and less than two percent are fully inoculated. This lack of protection could eventually lead to the spread of the virus and possible new mutations, similar to the Delta variant in India.


The New Opiate

Shares of multiple Chinese tech companies, including multinational Tencent, plummeted after an article published by state-affiliated media called video games “spiritual opium,” Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

Tencent lost six percent of its share value – about $60 billion – while companies such as NetEase and XD Inc. each fell by around eight percent on the Hong Kong stock exchange, MarketWatch noted.

The big drop followed an article published by the Economic Information Daily – linked to state-controlled Xinhua – accused the gaming industry of harming China’s teens.

Tencent’s stocks and others eventually recuperated Wednesday, and the bombshell article was deleted. State media later toned down their criticism, saying that government, schools, families and society need to work together to better protect children from excessive gaming.

The announcement caused concern among investors over fears that China was planning another regulatory crackdown, which has hit various companies in the country and at one point wiped out more than $1 trillion in market value from Chinese stocks.

Despite the softer rhetoric, the reports hinted there will be greater scrutiny over China’s gaming industry.

Currently, China is the world’s biggest videogame and e-sports market with combined revenue reaching $31.5 billion last year, according to PwC China.

The country is forecast to make up nearly 72 percent of overall video game revenue by 2025.


Upping the Ante

Ghanian lawmakers introduced a new bill this week that would make gay rights advocacy illegal, sparking outrage from advocates and concerns about the welfare of the LGBT+ community in the African country, Voice of America reported.

The proposed legislation would impose a maximum 10-year prison sentence to anyone who supports and advocates for same-sex and gay rights. It would also punish those who provide medical or social support to LGBT+ people.

Opposition lawmaker Sam George – who is pushing for the bill – said the draft law is not aimed at infringing anyone’s sexual preference as long as they do not force it on others.

LGBT+ activists, however, denounced the bill as backward and asked the international community to pressure the government to withdraw it. Some said the proposed law is a distraction as Ghana struggles to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill’s introduction comes six months after police raided Ghana’s first LGBTQ+ community center in Accra, arresting 21 gay rights activists during a workshop.

The individuals are currently on trial on charges of unlawful assembly and promoting homosexuality, Human Rights Watch reported.


Natural Dye

People shouldn’t worry about gray hair in light of new research that has found how easily it can be reversed, reported CTV News.

Previous studies have suggested a correlation between psychological stress and hair pigmentation but scientists hadn’t been able to connect the stress and color change at a single-follicle level.

Recently, though, a research team conducted a small-scale study where they found strong evidence that stress is connected to the graying of hair by looking into single strands.

The team asked 14 volunteers to keep entries and rate their stress levels each week.

They then analyzed individual hairs of each participant using a new method that captures highly detailed images of small slices of human hairs: Each slice showed about an hour of hair growth, which allowed researchers to precisely determine any changes in pigmentation.

Using data from the hair samples and the stress diaries, the team found that internal chemical processes and stress hormones influence hair pigmentation.

In one instance, a volunteer with five graying hair was able to reverse the process when going on vacation.

However, scientists warned that the reversal process mainly applies to people in their late 20s and 30s, when the hairs first emerge.

Despite the promising results, other scientists warned that the studied sample was too small and more data is needed.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 35,330,873 (+0.26%)
  2. India: 31,812,114 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 20,026,533 (+0.20%)
  4. Russia: 6,274,006 (+0.35%)
  5. France: 6,272,189 (+0.47%)
  6. UK: 5,980,887 (+0.49%)
  7. Turkey: 5,822,487 (+0.46%)
  8. Argentina: 4,975,616 (+0.28%)
  9. Colombia: 4,815,063 (+0.15%)
  10. Spain: 4,545,184 (+0.48%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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