The World Today for July 25, 2023

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Many environmentalists, including the eco-minded politicians in the Green Party in Germany, believe heat pumps will save the world.

As National Public Radio explained, heat pumps draw heat from the outside to warm homes. Powered by electricity, they are around a third cheaper than heating systems that use natural gas. When paired with solar panels, they are even more sustainable, cutting down further on the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Now, Green Party lawmakers are seeking to ban natural gas boilers and mandate that residents switch over to heat pumps, starting next year. It’s an ambitious plan to deal with an enormous problem, party leaders argue. Germany aims to become carbon neutral – cutting or mitigating the effects of carbon emissions to net zero – by 2045, the Guardian noted. But around half of German households use natural gas for heat. Another 25 percent use oil.

Critics, however, have blasted the plan as too radical and disruptive to people’s lives and the German economy. “People are outraged and furious,” Petra Uertz of the country’s Residential Property Association told the Financial Times in an interview. “They can’t understand why it has to happen so quickly.”

A nepotism and cronyism scandal which has tarnished by association German Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens, who is also vice-chancellor, has also soured many Germans towards the boiler plan, added Reuters.

German officials promised they would provide almost $11 billion through 2027 to fund the transition, wrote Bloomberg, but polls continue to indicate that a majority of Germans, while believing that mandating heat pumps may probably be a good idea, isn’t something that should be forced on the country this quickly.

The Greens are an important part of the coalition that now runs Germany under the administration of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat. As Agence France-Presse explained, the chancellor couldn’t ditch the plan – but he convinced the Greens to cut it back. Now, the ban on boilers will only take effect in municipalities that have drafted heating plans to conserve energy and make the transition to renewable energy sources. These changes mean the mandate would likely come into effect for most Germans in 2028.

Still, the damage has been done politically. Support for the Greens has dropped to around 15 percent from a peak of 24 percent last year, Reuters reported. That comes as support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is surging: Its approval ratings are now around 18 percent, equal to those of the Social Democrats. It recently won its first municipal district in Germany.

Lessons from the German experience, meanwhile, are rippling throughout Europe. In France, for example, officials are also seeking to phase out gas-fired boilers and other systems in favor of heat pumps, wrote Euractiv. They are now cautioning environmentalists that they don’t want to be too hasty in pushing the technology, however.

That’s especially so because Germans, more so than their neighbors, have long been more tolerant of rising prices for energy caused by the Energiewende (energy turnaround), a plan to phase out nuclear energy – the last reactors closed in April – and replace it with green energy.

Germans have for the past decade paid some of the highest costs for electricity in Europe.

But with energy prices skyrocketing even higher because of the war in Ukraine, it seems that tolerance has its limits.


Brace, Brace


Israel’s parliament on Monday passed the first part of a judicial reform that would significantly curb the top court’s ability to review government decisions, despite ongoing mass protests against the planned overhaul, Axios reported.

The ruling conservative coalition’s lawmakers unanimously voted 64-0 to strip the Supreme Court of its authority to overturn government decisions that currently do not pass a “reasonableness” test.

The bill is part of a broader judicial overhaul by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition, who are seeking to rein in unelected judges from overruling democratically elected officials, according to NBC News.

But the reform has faced intense opposition from the Israeli public, prompting large anti-government demonstrations that have seen thousands of people march in the streets since the planned changes were announced earlier this year.

Demonstrators and opposition parties fear that the changes will harm Israel’s democratic foundations and boost the executive branch’s power.

On Monday, tens of thousands of people protested in front of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem and blocked roads to prevent lawmakers from reaching the compound.

Following the vote, Israel’s main workers’ union announced it was planning a general strike in the country, which may take a few days to implement. At the same time, a pro-democracy non-governmental organization filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against the new law.

Opposition against the reforms has also emerged from Israel’s tech industry and military reservists, including fighter pilots and members of the intelligence service. On Sunday, thousands of military pilots, intelligence officials and soldiers threatened not to report for volunteer duty if the far-right government refused to back down on its plans to limit the Supreme Court’s powers, the Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, the country’s largest union is weighing whether to call another strike. In March, the union-led strike shut down much of the country before it was called off within hours when Netanyahu agreed to hold negotiations and delay the legislation.

In Limbo


Spain grappled with a political impasse Monday after the results of Sunday’s general elections showed no single party securing the parliamentary majority needed to form a government, CNN reported.

The results showed that the center-right Partido Popular (PP) led the race with 136 seats, while the center-left Socialist Party of incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez came in second with 122.

Meanwhile, the far-right Vox party won 33 seats and Sánchez’s likely coalition partner Sumar secured 31 seats.

To govern, a party or coalition needs a working majority of 176 seats in the 350-seat parliament.

Most polls had suggested that the PP would win most votes, but not secure a majority. Others predicted that the party would consider a coalition with Vox, a move that would bring the far-right into government for the first time in decades.

Although the PP saw an increase in its vote share, the election results offered no simple route for a right-wing coalition to be formed.

Political analysts explained that Sunday’s early polls were a political gamble for Sánchez after his party suffered a series of defeats in regional and local elections in May.

During his term, the prime minister has pushed a progressive agenda, including policies on women’s rights and a euthanasia law. While these policies received support from urban areas, they resulted in a backlash from other parts of the country.

Observers noted that the prospects of coalition-building now remain uncertain, saying that it will take weeks of negotiations for parties to reach an agreement on forming a government.

Targets and Terror


A gunman shot and killed the mayor of Ecuador’s third-largest city this week, the latest attack to rock the country’s political establishment and only a month before general elections, the Associated Press reported.

The Mayor of Manta, Agustín Intriago, and another individual were killed Sunday when an unknown gunman fired at them. Authorities said four more people were wounded, including two suspects.

The gunman, however, escaped. The motive for the shooting remains unclear, officials added.

Manta, a city close to the Pacific coast, has been used by gangs to move large shipments of narcotics to other parts of the Americas and Europe.

The assassination took place as Ecuador has been grappling with violent crime that the government believes is driven by power struggles among criminal gangs over drug trafficking, Reuters noted.

In May, gunmen targeted the mayor of the city of Duran. Although the mayor survived, the attack killed a policeman and injured a number of others.

On Sunday, authorities said a clash between rival gang members in a prison in Guayaquil left five inmates dead and 11 others injured. The violence began on Saturday afternoon and continued into the early hours of Sunday, with nearby residents hearing gunshots and explosions.

The Latin American nation is preparing for early general elections on Aug. 20.


The Prodigal Stone

Scientists are working to confirm whether a small meteorite discovered in the Sahara Desert originated from Earth before being flung into space – and later returning to the planet, Science Alert reported.

First found in Morocco in 2018, the space rock – known as NWA 13188, NWA meaning “Northwest Africa” – could be the first known meteorite to have made such a cosmic roundtrip.

In their findings, a research team explained that the 23-ounce meteorite had a similar chemical makeup to the kind of rocks formed from the molten minerals produced by volcanoes near sinking oceanic plates.

What distinguishes NWA 13188 from Earth rocks is the small concentrations of Helium-3, Beryllium-10, and Neon-21, which means it was exposed to radiation from outer space.

The team noted that these concentrations are lower than those recorded on other meteorites, but higher than seen on other rocks from Earth. They added that the low amounts could be explained by the short period NWA 13188 spent in space – possibly in the low tens of thousands of years.

But the main question that researchers are asking is how did the rock leave the planet in the first place.

They suggest that it could have been ejected during a very powerful volcanic eruption or thrown into space when another meteorite smashed into Earth.

While other scientists are still skeptical of the findings, rocks leaving their home planets is not a new occurrence.

Meteorites originating from Mars have been discovered in the Sahara: One of them has been named “Black Beauty” and is estimated to be 4.4 billion years old.

It was later sold to a private collection in 2011 and the 320-gram (11.3 ounces) rock is now valued at over US$10,000 per gram.

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