The World Today for August 30, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

From the Energiewende and Back

GERMANY

German officials this winter may keep open three nuclear power plants that they previously had planned to shut down as part of the Energiewende, or “energy turnaround” in German, that aims to transition Europe’s largest economy to renewable sources of energy.

Former Chancellor Angela Merkel, a conservative Christian Democrat, launched the Energiewende after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. In June, current Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, said he would press on with the policy despite energy prices rising worldwide. The disaster that could occur if fighting damaged the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine and triggered a meltdown has reminded the world about the dangers associated with splitting the atom.

The country has a robust anti-nuclear movement while the Green Party, which is in a coalition government with Scholz, keeps denuclearization at the center of its policy platform, wrote the Associated Press. As Green Party member and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said, the country needs gas for heat and industrial purposes. They do not have a shortage of electricity capacity.

But lately, as the New York Times explained, Russia has been reducing natural gas supplies to Europe in order to punish German and other Western leaders who have condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. That inconvenient fact has thrown a wrench into the Germans’ denuclearization plans. Scholz has said he is studying the issue, but he’s reportedly already decided unofficially to keep the plants open, added Reuters.

Plant operators, in the meantime, are continuing the long process of shutting down their facilities even as they plan on keeping them open this winter, the Financial Times wrote.

Many observers deemed the Energiewende a failure. Some said its advocates had compromised their principles. The libertarian Australian news journal Quillette called the policy a catastrophe, arguing that Germany over the years had put itself in a vulnerable position where a Russian autocrat could plunge the country into a recession by withholding energy.

Germany has been burning plenty of coal, too, to replace the lost capacity as officials have decommissioned nuclear power plants, reported Vox. They’ve even reopened coal-fired power generating plants that had been closed as part of the country’s pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, the Washington Post noted.

Defenders of the policy say it is only temporary, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation added. But German leaders have also called on other wealthy industrialized countries to walk back on a pledge to end investments in overseas carbon-based energy projects, Bloomberg reported.

France, meanwhile, which operates a significant nuclear energy industry, has maintained its progress in reducing carbon emissions and insulating itself against the worst of Putin’s energy blackmailing, the National Interest argued.

Overcoming this challenge would be revolutionary.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Open Arms

VENEZUELA

Colombia and Venezuela formally restored relations Monday, ending a three-year-long diplomatic impasse between the two neighboring countries, Bloomberg reported.

The restart of relations comes less than a month after leftist Colombian President Gustavo Petro took office. Petro – the country’s first leftist leader – vowed to restart bilateral ties with Venezuela, previously saying that severing relations with its socialist neighbor was “a huge mistake.”

Following years of hostility between leftist Venezuela and Colombia under the latter’s successive conservative presidents beginning with Alvaro Uribe, the two nations broke ties in 2019.

At the time, Colombia – under former conservative President Ivan Duque – joined around 60 other countries in refusing to recognize Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela’s president following the latter’s 2018 presidential elections.

Instead, they recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Both nations shut down their embassies and consulates and flights between them were grounded, according to Agence France-Presse. Even the 1,200-mile land border between them was closed between 2019 and October 2021, when it reopened to pedestrians only.

Analysts said that the restoration of relations would then be followed by work on reestablishing regional and political trade blocs, such as the Andean Community, which Venezuela pulled out of years ago.

The two countries have also expressed interest in restoring military relations.

Meanwhile, business groups suggested that bilateral trade between the countries would rise by about $1.2 billion by the end of the year if the border is fully reopened. Colombia exported just $331 million worth of goods to Venezuela last year, compared with more than $6 billion in 2008.

Boiling Point

LIBYA

Deadly clashes in Libya’s capital killed dozens of people in recent days, in unrest that has sparked fears over reigniting another civil war in the war-torn North African country, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Tripoli officials said at least 32 people died and 159 others were injured in weekend clashes between armed groups loyal to rival political factions. The fighting also damaged a number of government and residential buildings, they added.

The recent fighting occurred between armed groups loyal to Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in the capital Tripoli in the west of the country and militias supporting a rival administration in the east attempting to seize the capital.

Libya has been plagued by violence since 2011 following the ousting of longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi. The country has been split between two rival factions in the east and the west, each backed by different foreign powers.

Observers called the weekend violence the deadliest in more than two years.

Libya had enjoyed a period of calm in 2021 when a United Nations-brokered peace process helped install Dbeibah as the country’s interim prime minister. Dbeibah and his interim unity government were to usher in new national elections last December that would help end the conflict in the oil-rich nation.

However, tensions last year over the eligibility of the candidates caused the elections to be postponed indefinitely.

Dbeibah refused to step down, prompting lawmakers in the country’s eastern-based parliament to appoint former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha as their prime minister in February.

Following the Tripoli battle, Dbeibah called the attacks against him a coup d’état. He also called for national elections but didn’t say how and when they were going to happen.

Analysts suggested that Dbeibah would try to strengthen his position following the weekend fighting. Even so, he faces an uphill battle, including rival militias stationed across western Libya and on Tripoli’s outskirts.

‘Pink Phenomenon’

HUNGARY

A government-backed report warned that education is becoming “too feminine” in Hungary, cautioning that this phenomenon could endanger the economy, lower birth rates and disadvantage men, the BBC reported.

The report, made by the State Audit Office and published last month, said that women were over-represented in Hungarian higher education, while men were dropping out in larger numbers.

Over the past decade, more women than men had enrolled in universities – with the number this autumn reaching more than 54 percent. The report added that 82 percent of Hungarian teachers are women.

The study also found that “feminine” traits such as emotional and social maturity were more favored in Hungary’s education system, while “masculine traits” – such as technical skills and entrepreneurship – were undervalued.

The authors wrote that an increase in female graduates could result in lower marriage and birth rates, noting that this “pink education” phenomenon could impact the economy and everyday life for young people – such as not being able to handle “a frozen computer, a dripping tap, or furniture that has arrived flat-packed and there is no one to put it together.”

The findings come as the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is attempting to boost the country’s falling birth rates. In 2019, he announced that women with four children would be exempt from paying income tax for life.

Even so, the report faced intense criticism from opposition politicians and women’s rights groups, which described the report as “another blow to gender equality and women’s rights in Hungary.”

Hungary has faced criticism over gender issues, with a Council of Europe commissioner lamenting that the country was backsliding in gender equality and women’s rights.

The country recently elected its first female president, Katalin Novak, but continues to have the lowest share of female politicians in the EU.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The Ukrainian military announced Monday that it has begun offensive operations in a number of locations close to the front line in the Kherson region in southern Ukraine, possibly indicating the start of a massive and eagerly awaited counteroffensive intended to retake land taken by Russia, the New York Times reported.
  • Ukraine may experience its coldest winter in decades in the coming months, according to the head of the country’s state gas company Naftogaz, because the centralized heating infrastructure will turn on later in the season and be shut off sooner than usual, CNBC noted.
  • Military drills involving Chinese forces will be held in eastern Russia, according to the Kremlin’s defense ministry, Sky News wrote. Russian officials said the Vostok 2022 exercise will take place from Sept. 1 to Sept. 7 in several sites in Russia’s Far East and the Sea of Japan, involving more than 50,000 troops and 5,000 weapons units.

DISCOVERIES

Backup Systems

With mosquitoes running rampant this season, scientists discovered that the little pests are more complex than originally believed, New Scientist reported.

In a new study, a research team found that mosquitoes can still smell people – and bite them – even if their human-scent receptors have been removed.

Female mosquitoes pick up human and other animal scents through olfactory neurons located primarily on their antennae, which detect and transmit scent information to the brain.

Now, researcher Meg Younger and her colleagues used gene-editing technology on females of the Aedes aegypti species to deactivate these receptors in their antennae.

But when the insects were exposed to human odors again, researchers found that their brain activity showed that mosquitoes could still detect smells.

“(This was) the last thing that we expected to find,” says Younger.

Her team then used RNA sequencing to investigate what is happening at the cellular level and found that olfactory neurons were more complicated.

They observed that a single olfactory neuron could have numerous types of receptors – instead of one – and that the human odor stimulated certain receptors that were activated.

“If one of these types of olfactory receptors is mutated or no longer functioning, there’s this backup system,” said Christopher Potter of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Potter, who was not involved in the study, discovered a similar phenomenon in fruit flies.

The findings, however, show that genetically engineering the bugs to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases might not be ideal.

Younger suggested that resources should be focused on creating more potent traps and repellents.

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