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The World Today for November 23, 2022

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The Little Country That Could


Few people on Earth enjoy clear night skies. Light pollution obscures the skies over where 80 percent of the planet’s population lives. In New Zealand, however, National Geographic reported, the country is on track to become one of the largest certified so-called “dark sky” territories where light pollution will be kept to a minimum.

Whether against the encroachment of electric light against the night sky, strong anti-climate change actions, falling unemployment and increasing workers’ rights, or a more inclusive democracy, New Zealand appears inclined to go full steam ahead with any policies that protect the high quality of life in the small but affluent English-speaking archipelago in the South Pacific.

What’s more, New Zealand recently entered the small club of nations that have more female than male lawmakers, added the Associated Press, highlighting how the country wants to also be inclusive and socially progressive while representing its unique brand of assertiveness.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, for example, has been actively making trade and political connections on trips around the world, walking a line between advocating for open societies and government transparency and striking trade deals that benefit her constituents, the Diplomat wrote.

Before meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, for example, she said she expected to be able to speak freely without retaliatory Chinese actions, noted Stuff, a New Zealand-based news magazine. The prime minister said she and her Chinese counterpart should be able to discuss business and listen to each other’s concerns about regional stability. Moreover, the Economist noted how overall, the country is toughening up against its larger rival.

Not everyone in New Zealand is behind Ardern, however. Farmers, for example, have protested against her government’s most notorious anti-climate change initiative, a tax levied on cow burps and farts, science news site Phys.Org reported. The tax would apply to six million cows and 26 million sheep that emit methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases. Protesters have taken to the streets against the tax, arguing it’s unfair and citing how New Zealand’s livestock has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, as Newshub, a local news website, explained.

Issues like these show how deep tensions develop in New Zealand politics. The Guardian argued that centrist parties won’t likely win outright in elections in 2023. A centrist party will need the support of either a right-wing populist and libertarian party alliance or a left-wing coalition of socialist, greens and ethnic Māori political organizations. Voters, in other words, will have an important say in who governs them in the succeeding years. A precipitous drop in the housing market, as Reuters detailed, could motivate folks to head to the polls, too.

The New Zealanders will make their opinion known, for sure, as they gaze at the stars.


The Worth of a Tree


Kenya canceled a license to a foreign company to uproot and sell its iconic baobab trees from the country’s coastal region following a public outcry that labeled the sale as “biopiracy,” the BBC reported Tuesday.

The issue began after a Georgian company bought eight of the giant trees from local farmers in Kilifi county. The farmers reportedly sold trees growing on their private land for between $800 and $2400. They said they wanted to clear their plots to plant maize.

The company told the Guardian last month that the baobabs were going to be planted in a botanical garden in Georgia.

But Kenya’s environmental ministry said the authorization to uproot the trees was not properly obtained. It added that action would be taken against the agents that approved the sale.

The ministry did not say if all eight trees had been uprooted or how old they were – even though pictures shared online show uprooted trees with huge tree trunks and branches.

Many environmental groups feared that the removal of the trees could upset the ecological balance and affect numerous species that rely on baobabs for their habitat.

Baobabs are known to live up to 2,500 years and can withstand adverse climatic conditions. Mainly found in savannahs and tropical areas, it is said to be the longest-living flowering tree on Earth.

The tree’s fruit is considered a superfood, while its bark has been used for its medicinal and cosmetic properties for centuries.

The Right to Pot


The European Union’s top court ruled in favor of a Russian asylum seeker who is trying to stay in the Netherlands on the grounds that he would lose access to medicinal cannabis if he was returned to his home country, Politico reported.

The case centers on a Russian man who developed a rare blood cancer at the age of 16. The plaintiff said he needs medicinal cannabis to help manage the effects of his cancer. Cannabis is unavailable – and illegal – in Russia.

He appealed a decision by Dutch authorities to reject his asylum request to stay in the Netherlands. A local Dutch court referred the case to the EU’s Court of Justice, according to the Associated Press.

On Tuesday, the court found that the man’s need for medicinal cannabis for the treatment of his condition trumped the illegality of his stay in the Netherlands. It noted that the absence of treatment would lead to pain “of such intensity that it would be contrary to human dignity,” noting that the agony would cause the plaintiff “irreversible psychological consequences, or even lead him or her to commit suicide.”

Legal analysts explained that the case highlights how the right to health supersedes any other consideration, adding that the verdict applies to any medical treatment – not just access to medicinal cannabis.

Others noted that this decision is binding on the entire EU.

It is now up to the Dutch court to make the final decision but the guidance from the EU court is heavily weighted.

Russia outlaws the use of cannabis for recreational and medicinal use. The strict policy became a major international issue following the conviction of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was detained after Russian customs officials said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

The two-time American Olympic gold medalist said she had been prescribed cannabis for pain.

A Sure Thing


The party of incumbent President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo won Equatorial Guinea’s elections this week in a landslide victory that cements the aging president’s place as the world’s longest-ruling leader, VICE reported.

Preliminary results of Sunday’s general elections showed the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) secured 99 percent of the vote.

Obiang, 80, has ruled the small, oil-rich central African nation since 1979 after seizing power from his uncle Francisco Macías Nguema, the country’s first president following independence from Spain.

Since then, he has won every election with an overwhelming majority while also cracking down on any opposition. Human rights organizations have accused the government of arbitrary detention and torture.

One of the presidential candidates running in this election, Andres Enono, alleged that authorities intimidated voters in the capital.

Meanwhile, Obiang’s family and close associates are known to live a lavish lifestyle in a country where 67 percent of the population is poor.

Last year, France’s highest court upheld the conviction of the president’s son and vice president, Teodorin, for fraud and embezzlement. Authorities in the US, France and Switzerland have also confiscated property belonging to him worth millions of dollars.

Teodorin – who many believe will succeed his father – has denied all wrongdoing.


One-Child Policy

The erect-crested penguins are an odd and mysterious bunch.

The penguin species lives on remote islands hundreds of miles off the southern coast of New Zealand. It is considered endangered even though scientists haven’t thoroughly studied the species.

“No one knows virtually anything about them,” Lloyd Davis, a biologist and science communicator at New Zealand’s University of Otago, told the New York Times.

In 1998, Davis and his team visited the isolated Antipodes Islands to gather more information about the enigmatic birds.

Recently, they published a study based on those findings that underscore a strange – and ruthless – parenting behavior: Killing potential chicks.

At the time, the researchers monitored the creatures during their mating season, including observing their courtship, as well as egg-laying and incubation behaviors.

They explained that all species of crested penguins lay two eggs in a breeding season, a smaller first egg and a larger second egg. In other bird species, the smaller egg – and the last one to be laid – would usually serve as an “insurance policy” in case the other larger one dies.

But the erect-crested avian didn’t care about insurance: The team observed that all the smaller eggs died, either because they weren’t incubated or they rolled out of the nests or the parents shoved them away.

Even when Davis and his colleagues created protective rings around some nests, the small eggs were still neglected.

The authors aren’t exactly clear why the parent penguins do this, but they suggest that food scarcity forced the birds to adapt and reduce their brood size to one.

Still, Davis hopes that the study will bring more attention to the erect-crested penguins, which face numerous threats from global warming and the exploitation of the oceans by humans.


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