The World Today for May 12, 2022

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When the Show Doesn’t Go On

SOUTH AFRICA

Environmentalists on the Wild Coast, a region of South Africa, are demonstrating and litigating against a proposed seismic survey that would help Shell’s oil offshore explorations. The activists said the survey will include loud sound waves that will hurt marine life, including legendary migrations of dolphins, sardines, sea turtles and whales, as well as the livelihoods of coastal communities.

As News24 reported, the activists convinced a court to issue an injunction to temporarily block the seismic survey. Now, arguing that Shell didn’t receive the proper approvals, they are asking the courts to invalidate the company’s plan entirely. While Shell received permission from traditional community leaders, they didn’t really consult the people whom their project would impact.

“The court rightly argued that relying on indigenous leaders to decide on behalf of their ‘subjects’ was reminiscent of tactical colonial and apartheid-era distortions of custom when ‘One Chief, One Vote’ logic was used to politically disempower indigenous communities and personally benefit their leaders,” wrote Helen Acton, a researcher at Good Governance Africa, via allAfrica.

In court, Shell argued that fears of environmental damage were overblown and that the project would bring economic development to the Wild Coast, one of the poorest regions of South Africa. But activists said they didn’t want the economic development, especially if it came in the form of more polluting, carbon-based fuel production.

“This ocean is our life so it is nothing less than that which Shell would destroy,” said Zingisa Ludude, a 62-year-old who harvests mussels for a living and has protested against the project, in an interview with the Washington Post. “Everything we need comes from the ocean.”

Writing in the New York Times, author Kate Aronoff noted how the global economy has created the conditions for battles where the public, oil companies and governments must engage in a complicated dance in order to keep the lights on while curbing carbon emissions.

Rising costs, the risks of shortages and other fears are the context for these battles. People around the world are worried about the future of energy, especially in their backyards. Renewable energy isn’t immune, either. The Los Angeles Times recently noted how wind energy was reshaping the American West while causing worries over habitats and other issues.

Still, the rising price of oil and natural gas has made the exploration for those resources more urgent. Guyana in South America is working hard to construct a regulatory apparatus to deal with the massive oil exploration efforts now underway there, Reuters wrote. Angolan officials want to increase production to gain foreign revenues for their impoverished country that is still recovering from a bloody civil war. Cyprus and Israel want to come to an agreement on gas fields so the money can start flowing.

There appears to be plenty for everyone who wants it.

But for those who don’t, like some on the Wild Coast, there are new victories. Years ago, it would have been unquestionable that the survey – and later the drilling – would go on. Now in a more climate-conscious world, that’s no longer a sure thing.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Plan B

JAPAN

Japanese lawmakers passed an economic security bill Wednesday aimed at protecting the country’s supply chains and critical infrastructure from theft and cyberattacks amid growing tensions with China, Reuters reported.

The legislation would allow the government to closely monitor Japanese companies working in sensitive sectors, including transport, energy and information technology. The provisions would also order firms to notify authorities of software updates.

At the same time, the government will provide subsidies for companies to strengthen supply chains against disruptions, such as shortages of electronic components. The bill also promises government funds for research and development into key technologies considered essential for economic security.

The new measures are set to take effect in stages starting next year.

Observers said the law is primarily addressing worries over China and the current Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has disrupted supply chains. It also comes after the US tightened limits on technology imports, including semiconductors, amid rising tensions with China.

Meanwhile, some businesses have expressed concern about the ambiguities in the legislation regarding government interference and monitoring.

Suffer the Children

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union is proposing a new law that would order online platforms to do more to screen and remove child abuse online even as privacy rights activists expressed concern over the legislation’s broad reach, CNBC reported.

The planned rules would allow bloc countries to require big tech companies, such as Facebook and Apple, to implement systems that can detect child sexual abuse content on their platforms.

The bill would also create the EU Centre on Child Sexual Abuse, which would enforce the rules and maintain a database with digital “indicators” of such content reported by law enforcement.

EU officials and the bill’s supporters praised it as a “groundbreaking proposal” that would make the bloc a global leader in the fight against online child abuse.

But privacy advocates fear that the bill may damage end-to-end encryption, which scrambles messages so that only the intended receiver can access them. They described it as “a disaster for user privacy not just in the EU but throughout the world.”

The bloc said that the proposed measures are “technologically neutral” but cautioned that the consequences of leaving end-to-end encryption out of the requirements would be “severe” for children.

Checks and Balances

INDIA

India’s Supreme Court ordered the temporary suspension of the country’s sedition law Wednesday, legislation human rights advocates say has been used by the government to curb dissent and free speech, CNN reported.

The top court said it would pause the law until the government conducts a review. And individuals arrested under the law can apply for bail.

The verdict came after the court received a series of petitions challenging the law and accusing the government of misusing it.

The law was originally introduced by the British colonial government in 1860 to prohibit “words either spoken or written, or by signs or visible representation” that attempt to cause “hatred or contempt or excite or attempt to excite disaffection,” toward the government. Those convicted under sedition charges face more than three years in prison.

Observers say government officials have used the law to silence activists, journalists and other critics. They added that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party took over in 2014, India has seen an increase in the law’s application.

In 2015, the country’s National Crime Records Bureau reported that 30 people were charged with sedition that year. That number increased to 73 in 2020.

Former Supreme Court Judge Rohinton Nariman had criticized the use of the law, saying that students and stand-up comedians were being charged for being critical of the government.

Yet, he added, those inciting hatred and genocide against Muslims were getting away with it – referring to the comments made by right-wing Hindus at a three-day event in the city of Haridwar in December.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Ukraine cut the flow of Russian natural gas headed to the rest of Europe, posing a fresh danger to the continent’s energy security as it works to wean itself off of Russian fossil resources, according to the Wall Street Journal. The corporation in charge of Ukraine’s pipeline network blocked gas flow via a major entrance point in the country’s east on Wednesday, blaming Russian soldiers for interfering with crucial gas infrastructure. Meanwhile, the European Union failed to agree on how to phase out Russian oil, the Washington Post added.
  • Russian-appointed officials in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson declared preparations for annexation by Russia on Wednesday, prompting Ukraine to respond that those authorities may as well want to join “Mars or Jupiter,” USA Today noted. Officials also said that a bank for converting money to Russian rubles will open in the region by the end of May and will eventually become part of the Bank of Russia.
  • Ukraine will prosecute a Russian soldier in connection with the murder of a 62-year-old man in the country’s northeast, the first member of the Russian armed forces to stand trial, CNN reported. Ukrainian officials said Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old Russian soldier, killed an unarmed local who was riding a bicycle along the road in the hamlet of Chupakhivka on Feb. 28.
  • Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin stated Thursday that the nation should seek NATO membership “as soon as possible,” a declaration that underscores the clearest indication that Finland will make a formal application to join the defense alliance, CNBC wrote. Membership would be unprecedented for the Nordic country, which has maintained a policy of armed neutrality for decades.

DISCOVERIES

Concrete Plans

The coronavirus pandemic has created a major plastic problem with nearly 130 billion facemasks being used globally every month.

To prevent landfills from overflowing, scientists are working on novel ways to use the masks.

Recently, a research team found that the discarded items can be mixed with concrete to create a stronger material, New Atlas reported.

Previous findings have shown that concrete becomes less prone to cracking when tiny reinforcing fibers are mixed into it before it’s poured. In their new study, the team tested whether the polypropylene or polyester fabric in discarded face masks could be a source of those fibers.

The researchers shredded the masks into fibers ranging from 5 to 30 mm in length.

They then mixed the fibers with a graphene oxide solution coating to help the material bond with Portland cement paste, the most commonly used type of cement in the world.

After a month, the fiber-reinforced concrete displayed 47 percent more splitting tensile strength than untreated Portland cement. But the special concrete showed a minuscule three percent decrease in compressive strength.

Still, lead author Xianming Shi said the masks “could be a valuable commodity if you process them properly.”

But face masks aren’t limited to reinforcing concrete: Last year, Australian researchers discovered that face mask fibers could strengthen asphalt and other road materials.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 519,484,379

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,258,388

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,396,437,503

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

  1. US: 82,223,174 (+0.20%)
  2. India: 43,113,413 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,617,786 (+0.08%)
  4. France: 29,252,875 (+0.14%)
  5. Germany: 25,592,839 (+0.35%)
  6. UK: 22,338,750 (+0.04%)
  7. Russia: 17,975,243 (+0.02%)
  8. South Korea: 17,694,677 (+0.20%)
  9. Italy: 16,915,301 (+0.25%)
  10. Turkey: 15,048,449 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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