The World Today for January 11, 2023
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NEED TO KNOW
On Jan. 1, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in as the new president of Brazil. A week later, supporters of his opponent, former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, stormed Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Presidential Palace to try to stop the changing of the guard.
But as the more than 1,500 protesters arrested get processed – or prosecuted – by law enforcement and the country fears more violence, another group in the country is quietly thankful for the regime change, namely scientists, and is now changing gears.
That’s because these folks are worried that ranchers, farmers, loggers, and others are turning the Amazon rainforest into a grassy savannah, thereby eliminating a vitally important ecosystem that pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and emits massive amounts of oxygen, serving as the proverbial lungs of the planet.
Burning trees and other activity in the Amazon recently caused the region to emit more greenhouse gases than it absorbed in recent years. As Brazilian atmospheric chemist Luciana Vanni Gatti recently told the New York Times, trees and other flora in the Amazon have been “effectively dying more than growing.”
Bolsonaro was a major driver of these changes. During his four years in office, he supported landowners and others who sought to clear and develop the Amazon, sometimes illegally. Deforestation in the Amazon surged 60 percent under his watch. In return, he received the stalwart political backing of those interest groups, explained Mongabay. In his unsuccessful bid for reelection last year, for instance, Bolsonaro won large majorities in localities where deforestation and associated economic activities were most widespread.
Now, however, the victor of the general election, known as “Lula,” is in charge. As Politico reported, Lula has fielded an “Amazon dream team” to roll out a package of reforms to protect the forest. “The world expects Brazil to once again become a leader in tackling the climate crisis and an example of a socially and environmentally responsible country,” Lula said.
Lula served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010. He is widely popular among the lower classes but reviled by many Brazilians as corrupt. He spent a year in jail on corruption charges before the country’s top court annulled the conviction.
Lula has pledged to reinforce environmental laws that he says Bolsonaro undermined, halt deforestation in the Amazon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero in electricity production, make it harder to seize land illegally, and convert disused pastures back into forests, wrote the Guardian.
Agriculture is a central pillar of the Brazilian economy, however. While he claims that his reforms won’t harm the sector, farmers and the large share of the Brazilian population who depends on commodities are worried. His policies, along with other left-wing economic measures to reduce poverty and hunger, wrote Al Jazeera, have led investors to question whether he will ramp up public spending and debt that could lead to a financial crisis.
Lula’s task is to convince his people that they can’t ignore one problem in order to solve another.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Earth’s protective ozone layer is on its way to recovery within the next four decades, a bit of good news amid repeated and consistently dire warnings about the climate, CNBC reported.
A United Nations-backed panel of researchers released a report this week highlighting how the trend toward recovery was thanks to years of work to eliminate ozone-damaging chemicals: These efforts included the landmark Montreal Protocol in 1987, which banned the production and consumption of chemicals that eat away at the planet’s protective layer.
Found in the planet’s upper atmosphere, the ozone layer protects the Earth from the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, which is linked to skin cancer, compromised immune systems and agricultural damage.
The findings showed that the recovery will be gradual: If current policies remain in place, the protective layer could recover to 1980 levels – before the appearance of the ozone hole – by 2040. It will return to normal over the Artic by 2045 and over Antarctica by 2066.
The report noted that since 2018, global emissions from the banned chemical chlorofluorocarbon-11 (CFC-11), which was used as a refrigerant and in insulating foams, have decreased after rising unexpectedly for a number of years.
Scientists and environmental groups hailed the assessment, saying the ozone’s recovery underscores the importance of taking climate action. They added that it could set a precedent for the broader regulation of climate-warming emissions.
“Our success in phasing out ozone-eating chemicals shows us what can and must be done – as a matter of urgency – to transition away from fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gases and so limit temperature increase,” World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.
ISRAEL/ WEST BANK & GAZA
Israel’s new far-right government imposed a series of punitive steps against Palestinians this week in response to the latter’s efforts to involve the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the decades-long conflict, Reuters reported.
The government has withheld nearly $40 million in Palestinian tax revenues and said they would transfer the money to victims of Palestinian militant attacks. Authorities also imposed a moratorium on Palestinian construction in some parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The measures also include a ban on Palestinian flags in public places. Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted that the flag is associated with “a terrorist organization” and the ban aims “to stop any incitement against the State of Israel,” according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, border officials have suspended the “VIP” travel pass of Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, which had allowed him to travel in and around the West Bank.
The recent crackdown comes more than a week after the United Nations General Assembly – responding to an appeal by Palestinians – requested an opinion from the ICJ on the legal implications of Israel’s decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories, Axios wrote.
Israel captured the territories of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War.
The court’s opinion, which can take between one to two years, will address a number of questions related to the occupation, including “how the policies and practices of Israel affect the legal status of the occupation, and what are the legal consequences that arise for all States and the United Nations from this status.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Palestinian Authority of promoting “an extremist anti-Israeli resolution at the United Nations.” Palestinian officials, in turn, have condemned Israel’s actions and said that they will continue to seek international support.
Observers warned that the recent moves from both sides risk worsening tensions after the deadliest year of the Israel-Palestinian conflict in nearly two decades.
Very Small Compromises
France is planning to ban hunting under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a move aimed at reducing the number of hunting-related incidents that have risen in the European country in recent years, Politico reported.
Officials said a new fine will be created early in the year to sanction “the act of hunting under the excessive influence of alcohol” as part of a wider government initiative to reform hunting practices. That plan also includes an app mapping out hunting areas and allowing people to “identify hunting-free areas and times” close to their location.
The new measures come as the government faces pressure over the increase in accidents involving non-hunters, including a parliamentary inquiry on hunting safety prompted by the death of 25-year-old Morgan Keane in 2020, the Guardian noted.
The French-British national was shot dead two years ago while chopping wood on his land by a hunter who mistook him for a wild boar.
The French Office of Biodiversity – which issues hunting permits – reported in September that there were 90 accidents during the 2021-22 season, six more than in the previous season, and eight of them fatal.
Environmental and anti-hunting groups initially urged the government to impose an outright hunting ban for one day on weekends, despite opposition from hunting groups. Following the government’s announcement, environmental groups cautioned that the new prohibitions would be unenforceable.
It’s complicated sending humans to Mars.
Apart from oxygen supply, food issues and solar radiation, crewed missions also need to figure out how to power their equipment.
Astronomers have suggested using solar energy to power human missions. Unfortunately, sunlight is hard to come by in the planet’s polar regions and elsewhere.
Researchers explained that Martian winds have around 99 percent less force compared to those on Earth because of the red planet’s thin atmosphere.
For their study, a research team collected detailed information about Mars and used the data to create a global climate model to simulate the different wind speeds across the planet.
The team also calculated how much power Earth-made wind turbines could generate and compared these figures with the estimated energy requirements for sustaining six people on Mars for a mission lasting 500 Martian days.
The researchers discovered that wind energy might not only supplement solar energy – particularly at night and during strong dust storms that block out sunlight – but also completely replace it in some regions.
Still, the authors noted that their findings derive from a theoretical standpoint and more research is needed to determine the practicalities of building wind turbines on Mars.
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