The World Today for June 02, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Moving Out

NORWAY

Norway has become a key supplier of energy as Europe seeks out alternatives to Russian oil and gas.

As the Financial Times explained, the EU imported 40 percent of its gas supplies from Russia before the war in Ukraine erupted. Now that rate has dropped to 26 percent. By the end of the year, EU officials said, the bloc should be importing only 13 percent of its gas from Russia and even less oil.

Norway is already enjoying a record year in oil and gas sales, Upstream noted. Oil companies said they need long-term contracts to secure investments to expand further. Expecting more business, the Norwegian government doled out new licenses for drilling in hitherto untouched zones along the Scandinavian country’s Arctic coast in March, after it became clear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would scramble world energy markets and prices.

“Access to new, attractive exploration acreage is a pillar in the government’s policy for further development of the petroleum industry,” Norwegian Minister of Energy and Petroleum Terje Aasland said in a statement to Reuters at the time. “New discoveries are crucial for ensuring jobs, value creation and production.”

This mother lode of black gold highlights the irony of Norway’s image as a leader in the green revolution that proponents believe is necessary to avert the most damaging effects of droughts, rising sea waters and other effects of climate change.

For example, more than 65 percent of new cars purchased in Norway last year were electric, Electrek reported. Now officials are planning to repeal tax incentives and other perks that drove those sales – not because they want to revert to carbon-fueled vehicles but because they want to reduce the number of cars on the roads overall and encourage bicycling and walking.

Additionally, Norway has invested heavily in green technologies in the oil industry itself. A largely taxpayer-funded initiative would use green hydropower generated on land to electrify offshore oil and gas rigs. “That will help meet national climate targets, and so allow the lucrative industry to keep pumping fossil fuels for decades more,” wrote Bloomberg, adding that the plan met Norway’s “own climate goals without jeopardizing their economic interests.”

Norwegians have mixed views on their oil industry. Some voices contend that Norway should use its oil riches to help the less fortunate, as Norwegian Church Aid Secretary General Dagfinn Høybråten said in an interview with Devex. Traditional communities living in northern Norway warn against energy projects – carbon or renewable – that might imperil their fishing grounds and way of life, as National Geographic documented. Reindeer that are central to indigenous Sami communities don’t mix well with wind turbines.

Speaking to Reuters, Norwegian leaders rejected allegations that they might be “greenwashing,” or only appearing to care about the environment. They were simply trying to make an orderly transition, they said.

At least it is a transition.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Upping the Ante

TAIWAN

The Chinese military conducted a “combat readiness patrol” around Taiwan’s sea and airspace this week, saying it was “a necessary action” against what it described as “US-Taiwan collusion,” Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

Taiwanese officials said this week that 30 Chinese planes, mainly fighter jets, entered the southwestern section of its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). They added that it was the second-largest incursion of Chinese military aircraft since January.

The military drills took place as US Senator Tammy Duckworth was visiting Taiwan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian explained that Beijing had complained to the US about Duckworth’s visit, adding that such a move sends “wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces.”

China considers Taiwan part of its territory under the “One China” policy, even though both countries have been governed separately since the mid-20th century.

Even so, Zhao emphasized that Beijing will “resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

For the United States, Taiwan’s status remains ambiguous but Washington has maintained close relations with Taipei under the Taiwan Relations Act.

At the same time, the US also maintains a vague view of the “One China” policy, analysts said.

Humans: 1, Bots: 0

SPAIN

The Spanish government approved a bill that would overhaul the way companies handle customer service calls and eliminate long waiting times for customers, the Associated Press reported.

Under the bill, companies will be ordered to reduce long hold periods on customer service calls –instead, they will be forced to answer callers within three minutes. They will also be required to provide a real, human customer service representative when a caller requests one.

All customer inquiries will need to be answered within 15 days, according to the bill.

The new rules will apply to providers of basic services, such as utilities, phones and internet. Firms in these sectors also need to offer customer service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Meanwhile, all other companies will have to provide customer service within working hours.

Fines for breaking the law will range from $160 to $106,000.

Consumption Minister Alberto Garzón said that long waiting times and the use of chatbots have created difficulties for many consumers: “Customer service is a critical part of our relations with consumers which unfortunately and far too often causes endless headaches for Spanish families because far too many companies create bureaucratic labyrinths to stop you from exercising your right to service,” he told the AP. “These are difficulties which unfortunately waste an enormous amount of energy, time and money.”

The bill still needs to be approved by Spanish lawmakers before it takes effect.

Bar All, Bar None

JAPAN

Japan is preparing to reopen to foreign tourists this month, even as Hollywood celebrities and South Korean entertainers have been able to enter the country amid strict border closures because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Washington Post reported.

Over the past weeks, foreign actors and K-pop bands have been visiting Japan to promote their work, hold performances and greet fans. The high-profile appearances, however, have drawn criticism from ordinary travelers and family members who are unable to enter the country.

Currently, certain business travelers, international students and foreign workers are allowed entry but family members of foreign residents are not. Japan is also conducting trial runs to prepare the country to accept group tours from 98 countries starting June 10.

Individual tourism will still be banned, according to Nikkei Asia.

Japan’s ongoing restrictions have divided local and international opinion, as many neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific region have fully resumed restriction-free tourism amid subsiding Covid-19 cases.

Coronavirus cases have also dropped in Japan and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that authorities are working to accept more foreigners. However, he has not specified when these relaxed measures will take effect. Meanwhile, a number of local officials remain wary about fully reopening the country.

The border closures have remained popular domestically but opponents, especially business leaders, say the restrictions have “imposed real economic and human costs.”

Some have also compared the strict rules to Japan’s isolationist policies from the early 1600s through the 1850s.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The Biden administration says it will deploy a small number of high-tech, medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine, a key weapon that Ukrainian authorities have been pleading for as they try to halt Russian advancement in the Donbas region, Al Jazeera wrote. Russia condemned the move, saying the US is adding “fuel to the fire.” At the same time, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Wednesday that Germany will send modern air defense missiles and radar systems to Ukraine “in the coming weeks,” Politico added.
  • More than 15,000 alleged war crimes have been registered in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion, according to the country’s chief prosecutor, Sky News noted. Chief Prosecutor Iryna Venediktova said more than 500 suspects have been identified, including Russian ministers and military commanders. She added that prosecutions have started against around 80 individuals.
  • Russian forces claim to have discovered four undetonated landmines beneath the remains of 152 dead Ukrainian servicemen at Mariupol’s huge Azovstal steelworks facility, Euronews reported. Russia’s defense ministry said Kyiv purposefully sought to destroy the remains. Meanwhile, officials in Kyiv have long accused Moscow of abandoning its soldiers who have died in battle.
  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reaffirmed his country’s ties with Russia by saying Beijing will cooperate with Moscow to foster “real democracy,” according to Bloomberg. In a veiled jab at the United States, Wang said that “monopolizing” the notion of democracy and human rights to influence other countries was a strategy “doomed to fail.” Meanwhile, a projection appeared on the façade of the US embassy in Russia’s capital, accusing “US warmongers” of complicity in the deaths of children in Ukraine’s Donbas region, the Moscow Times said.
  • A court in Russia’s Far East handed down the country’s first guilty verdict for spreading “fake news” about Moscow’s conflict in Ukraine, the Moscow Times wrote separately. Authorities in the Zabaikalsky area accused a local man of fabricating certain Russian Defense Ministry documents and posting “knowingly false” videos in a social media chat he moderated in March.
  • Russia is planning to build a “fun and tasty” restaurant chain that will replace McDonald’s, following the franchise’s exit from the country about two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported.

DISCOVERIES

Sleight of Sound

Bats can fool predators by imitating the sound of buzzing insects, the New York Times reported.

Scientists observed that the greater mouse-eared bat species are capable of mimicking the sounds of bees and hornets as a defense mechanism, which they describe as Batesian mimicry.

Named after the 19th-century British naturalist Henry Walter Bates, these evolutionary adaptions occur when harmless creatures imitate more dangerous species to evade their predators.

Batesian mimicry is more common visually in animals, such as the scarlet kingsnake, a non-venomous snake whose red, black and yellow pattern is similar to that of a venomous coral snake.

But in their study, researchers discovered a rare case of acoustic Batesian mimicry and the first documented between mammals and insects.

They noted that bats would produce buzzing sounds to deceive owls, their natural predators. To test this, they initially recorded samples of buzzing and non-buzzing bats. They then exposed the two sounds to wild and captive owls and monitored their response.

The owls would immediately move away from the speaker when they heard the buzzing sounds, with the wild owls reacting even more strongly.

“This is something really new – they’re using the sound to confuse, to deceive predators,” said co-author Gloriana Chaverri.

Other researchers explained that the findings are intriguing because it shows that this evolutionary adaption occurred between species that diverged from their last common ancestor hundreds of millions of years ago.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 530,723,208

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,294,649

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,536,758,357

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

  1. US: 84,444,990 (+0.27%)
  2. India: 43,164,544 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 31,060,017 (+0.13%)
  4. France: 29,738,170 (+0.09%)
  5. Germany: 26,409,455 (+0.18%)
  6. UK: 22,492,903 (+0.03%)
  7. South Korea: 18,129,313 (+0.05%)
  8. Russia: 18,067,977 (+0.02%)
  9. Italy: 17,440,232 (+0.11%)
  10. Turkey: 15,072,747 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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