The World Today for December 09, 2021

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Mining Discontent

SERBIA

Lithium is a crucial component in the batteries that power electric vehicles. But many Serbs don’t think that makes the shiny metal green.

That’s why thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Serbian capital of Belgrade recently to call on politicians to enforce the Balkan country’s environmental regulations. The trigger for the demonstrations was Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto’s proposed $2.4 billion lithium mine.

Serbia is one of the most polluted countries in Europe, according to Euronews. Around 50 people die per day from air pollution. In the village of Radinac, for example, emissions from a Chinese-owned steel mill cover homes in thick red dust, reported Reuters. In the past 10 years, cancer rates have quadrupled.

The proposed Jadar lithium mine in the countryside near the Bosnia-Herzegovina border is especially galling for Serbs.

In addition to more than 2,000 construction jobs, the mine could employ 1,000 people and produce batteries that could power as many as one million electric cars per year, wrote a Rio Tinto press release. The company has yet to produce an environmental impact statement, however, yet still has plans to begin excavating next year and produce lithium in five years.

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Critics of Rio Tinto and the government see collusion between the two, Balkan Insight wrote.

Al Jazeera, for instance, noted that officials have enacted a new law that would allow the government to expropriate land with only eight days’ notice and make it harder for voter referendums to stop projects, paving the way for the company to take over land despite the potential environmental hazards.

Rio Tinto would relocate around 50 households and purchase hundreds of other parcels, forever changing a remote corner of the country. Locals foresee a way of life ending with the support of their politicians. “I still have a house and a garden…living in the countryside and not having land – it’s like someone cutting off your arms and legs,” Zlatko Kokanovic told Radio Free Europe. “You can’t do anything.”

President Aleksandar Vucic, meanwhile, views the mine as a vital step toward improving Serbia’s economy. As Bloomberg explained, he recently imposed price controls on pasteurized milk, bread, pork legs, sugar and sunflower oil amid rising inflation. While Vucic is forecast to win reelection in April, the measures appear designed to shore up his support.

The mine will comprise around one percent of Serbia’s gross domestic product when it is up and running, claimed University of Melbourne researchers writing in the Conversation. That number reflects the utility of lithium. But history shows that lithium mines can harm ecosystems and ruin rural communities, too.

It’s a balance that Serbian politicians and voters will need to find somehow.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Silent Treatment

AUSTRALIA

Australia will not send officials to attend the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, the latest country to launch a diplomatic boycott against China over its alleged human rights abuses, Axios reported Wednesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the move is a response to China’s maltreatment of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region.

He called it “the right thing to do” and added that the decision was “not surprising” because of China’s refusal to discuss its alleged violations and other issues.

The decision comes a few days after the United States launched its own boycott against the international event. Britain and New Zealand also followed suit.

China condemned the US move and vowed to take “countermeasures,” according to the Voice of America. Meanwhile, it also decried Australia’s boycott, saying that “nobody cares” whether Australian officials attend the Olympics.

The boycott means that officials and diplomats will not attend any Olympic events in China but athletes will still be allowed to participate.

The recent development comes amid ongoing tensions between China and Australia.

They have been at odds in recent years but relations worsened last year when Australia demanded an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which was first detected in China.

China responded by imposing high tariffs on Australian exports. Beijing also expressed dismay over Canberra’s decision to purchase nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new defense deal with Britain and the US.

No Exit

AFGHANISTAN

A British whistleblower accused the United Kingdom of mishandling the evacuation of Afghan refugees following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, the Hill reported.

Raphael Marshall, a desk officer in the British Foreign Office, said during testimony to the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee that the government’s handling was “arbitrary and dysfunctional.”

He explained that he was part of the “Afghan Special Cases” team, which helped individuals such as Afghan soldiers, journalists and judges who faced risks because of their connection to Britain and other Western countries.

The whistleblower said thousands of Afghans potentially eligible for evacuation had sent emails to the Foreign Office but a majority of them were left unread: He estimated that less than five percent of the 75,000 to 150,000 individuals who reached out to his team received any assistance.

Apart from calls for help, the emails also included reports about human rights abuses perpetrated by the Taliban, including murders, rapes and arson involving homes.

Marshall also accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of intervening in the evacuation efforts to prioritize the flight of pets instead of British nationals and “people at risk of imminent murder, including interpreters who had served with the British Army.”

Johnson rejected the accusations.

Britain assisted in the evacuation of more than 3,000 people from Afghanistan and is currently working to help others leave the country.

We Do

CHILE

Chilean lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to approve marriage equality this week, a vote that would make Chile the latest Latin American country to recognize same-sex marriage, NPR reported.

Both houses of parliament approved the draft legislation, which was first introduced in 2017 by then-President Michelle Bachelet. Current President Sebastián Piñera had initially opposed the legislation.

But in June, he changed his stance, announcing that “the time has come for marriage equality in our country.” He is expected to sign the bill into law before he leaves office in March.

Chile’s current laws allow gay couples to unite under a Civil Union Pact, which gives them most of the same rights as married couples but denies them the right to adopt.

The new legislation will extend parental rights to gay parents and expand spousal benefits and adoption rights for married same-sex couples.

The law makes Chile the eighth Latin American country to allow same-sex marriage, as well as the 31st worldwide.

The parliamentary approval came less than two weeks before a contentious presidential run-off that will pit far-right candidate Jose Antonio Kast against Gabriel Boric, a leftist former student leader.

DISCOVERIES

On the Winds of the Sun

Past research has shown that meteorites and asteroids that hit Earth during its formation more than four billion years ago were rich in water.

However, this extraterrestrial water contained a heavier form of hydrogen called deuterium, which has prompted speculation there might have been another source of water.

Recently, a research team discovered that solar winds played a major role in delivering water to our planet, New Scientist reported.

In a new study, lead author Luke Daly and his colleagues studied a single grain of material collected from the asteroid Itokawa by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa in 2010. They wrote that the space rock had been irradiated by particles in the solar winds, which turned a small amount of each grain into water.

Because solar winds are mainly comprised of hydrogen ions, they combine with the oxygen atoms in the asteroid rock to produce water.

The researchers also suggested that since the early solar system was rife with dust particles, the solar winds would have converted them into water – which had less deuterium – that later came down to Earth.

“You could produce Earth’s oceans by mixing those two reservoirs together,” said Daly.

He noted that the findings could be used to study other asteroids in the future and could have implications for space exploration.

“Every rocky surface will have small grains that have been irradiated by solar wind,” he added. “If we want to put up permanent human habitation facilities on other worlds, you could look at the [dust] as a way of producing water.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 267,978,781

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,282,508

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 8,291,426,915

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 49,538,960 (+0.30%)
  2. India: 34,666,241 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,167,781 (+0.05%)
  4. UK: 10,671,608 (+0.43%)
  5. Russia: 9,752,340 (+0.31%)
  6. Turkey: 8,966,681 (+0.25%)
  7. France: 8,153,025 (+0.87%)
  8. Germany: 6,380,464 (+1.09%)
  9. Iran: 6,144,644 (+0.06%)
  10. Argentina: 5,348,123 (+0.06%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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