Striking Liquid Gold
May 4, 2021
The Good News
- “Long overdue”: The Senate just passed $35 billion for clean drinking water. (Grist)
- Former circus elephants begin to arrive at Florida sanctuary (AP)
“The essence of globalization is a subordination of human rights, of labor rights, consumer, environmental rights, democracy rights, to the imperatives of global trade and investment.” — Ralph Nader
“In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?” — Saint Augustine
A Global Race To The Bottom, But Namibia’s Aiming High
(Jaco Marais via Getty Images)
Last month world leaders took part in President Biden’s virtual Climate Change Summit, lining up to see which developed nations could reduce their dependence on fossil fuels the fastest. Meanwhile, the global oil industry continues looking for the next giant onshore oil discovery. Chances are it’ll be in Africa, where poorer countries must balance the opportunity for increased wealth against damaging fragile ecosystems in a climate change hotspot.
Craig Steinke is the co-founder of a Canadian oil company, ReconAfrica. His company holds a license to explore 6.3 million acres of northeastern Namibia that had been granted to a predecessor company in 2015. Steinke wagers there are huge reserves possibly worth billions in the Kavango Basin in the northeastern corner of Namibia, on the borders of Angola and Botswana. In December 2020, Steinke’s company announced it had begun exploratory drilling for oil and gas in the Kavango East region — 13,000 square miles in the middle of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Supporters of drilling say the find could transform the fortunes of Namibia and Botswana, and that the countries have every right to exploit their own natural resources. After all, the developed world has spent the past century exploiting its own fossil fuel reserves and getting rich in the process. “And you can’t blame the Namibian government for wanting to achieve energy independence,” Steinke says.
Francois Engelbrecht is a professor and a lead author on the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. He gives the other side of the argument: “The northern part of Namibia and Botswana and southern Zambia are likely the region in the Southern Hemisphere that is warming the fastest. Southern Namibia already has twice the global rate of warming. In northern Namibia it is a staggering 3.6 degrees Celsius per century.”
Multiple projections confirm that as the planet warms, those increasing temperatures will have a specific impact on the region. Dry spells will become more frequent in the summer months, and the change in weather patterns and the corresponding increase in heat will create an even hotter and drier climate. Scientists warn that in just 30 years, unless aggressive mitigation efforts are imposed, the way of life in Kavango will be untenable.
The impact of climate change is already being felt in Namibia. “Farming is already marginal. When it gets drastically warmer and drier, the means for adaptation will be extremely limited. The cattle industry will likely collapse,” Engelbrecht says.
A sensitive water system lies close to ReconAfrica’s first exploratory drill site. The Kavango River fans out into the Kalahari Desert, creating an inland wetland that never makes it to the sea. It is a haven for some of the most diverse animals and birds on the continent. “Currently the work that [ReconAfrica is doing] is not a big deal. It doesn’t have a large environmental or social footprint,” one geologist and activist noted. “But if they find what they are looking for and expand production, the impact will be absolutely devastating for the Delta.” (CNN, Mongabay)
The Amazons Logged Another Bad Year
(Tarso Sarraf via Getty Images)
- At President Biden’s virtual Climate Change Summit last month, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro vowed his country would become carbon neutral by 2050, and arrive at net-zero deforestation by 2030. Yet a new analysis of satellite imagery shows that already by April 4, 2021 some 433,000 acres of Brazil’s lush, species-rich rainforest have been logged or burned.
- Deforestation has run rampant since Bolsonaro entered office in 2019. In his first six months, protective enforcement measures fell by 20%, funding to the main environmental agency was slashed and some of its officials were fired. Bolsonaro’s continued anti-environmental rhetoric emboldened illegal loggers and land grabbers. In 2020, the loss of primary forest was up 25% compared to 2019.
- While Trump was president, Bolsonaro had harsh words for any leader suggesting he should take better care of the Amazon. But his tone became more conciliatory once President Biden took office and indicated monetary aid could be available to help Brazil meet its environmental goals. However nearly 200 activists, organizations and former environment ministers wrote Biden in early April urging him not to trust Bolsonaro, and that giving money to his administration could actually worsen the situation.
- Bolsonaro wants other governments to give him billions of dollars to help protect the Amazon. But one day after he said he would double his budget for environmental enforcement, he approved a budget cut to the country’s main environmental agency. “What the government is missing is not cash,” ministers said in an op-ed, “but a commitment to the truth.” (Vox)
- A global team spearheaded by the German Federal Criminal Police has arrested three people in connection with one of the world’s largest platforms containing child sex abuse materials. Interpol arrested a fourth person in Paraguay.
- The online platform was known as Boystown and was hosted on the dark web; it had 400,000 registered users when it was taken offline by the international taskforce.
- The three suspects accused of operating and maintaining the Boystown platform were all male German nationals. The fourth suspect is from Hamburg and was arrested on suspicion of being one of the site’s most active users. (CNN)
Additional World News
- Colombia’s president withdrawing tax reforms after mass protests (Al Jazeera)
- A Canadian oil firm thinks it has struck big. Some fear it could ravage a climate change hotspot (CNN)
- Mozambique Mints a New National Park — and Surveys Its Riches (NYT, $)
- German police bust child sex abuse imagery network with 400,000 users (CNN)
- Philippines foreign minister issues expletive-laced tweet over China sea dispute (Reuters)
- G7: Rich states want to send 40m more girls to school (BBC)
- India’s Covid crisis: Charts show the severity of the second wave (CNBC)
- German Gymnasts Cover Their Legs In Stand Against Sexualization (NPR)
Fair’s Not Fair In Idaho’s Sports
- On Monday, a landmark case was argued before the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals involving the question of whether transgender women and girls have a constitutional right to play on women’s sports teams. The case stems from an Idaho law passed in March 2020 that was the nation’s first transgender sports ban.
- Idaho’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act would categorically prohibit transgender women and girls from kindergarten through college from competing on teams that align with their gender identity, including on intramural and club teams. A federal judge issued an injunction in August preventing the law from going into effect until all litigation was completed.
- The plaintiff is Lindsay Hecox, a transgender student at Boise State University who said: “I’m just a 20-year-old girl, and I just want to be able to compete.” But a 19-year-old cisgender named Madison Kenyon, who runs track and cross-country at Idaho State University, supports the ban, saying “What I’m fighting for is to preserve the integrity in women’s sports and to make sure that it’s a fair playing field.”
- Governors in five states — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia — have signed bills similar to Idaho’s into law; bills in Florida and Montana await the governors’ signatures. Numerous other states have such bills in their legislative pipelines. (NPR)
Prosecuting Pill Pushers
- The first federal trial of the three biggest US drug distributors was scheduled to begin Monday in West Virginia. Authorities from the city of Huntington and Cabell County sued McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen for illegally flooding the state with hundreds of millions of prescription opioid pills, thereby driving the highest overdose rate in America.
- The case is one of a number of federal cases claiming the pharmaceutical industry put profit before lives by working in concert with “pill mill” doctors and pharmacists who were little better than drug dealers in supplying opioids to anyone who paid, in violation of laws requiring distributors to halt and report suspicious sales.
- The companies contend they were doing no more than delivering legal drugs to licensed pharmacies to fill prescriptions written by doctors. (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- US Judge Restricts Use Of Force By Columbus, Ohio, Police (NPR)
- Senate Intel Committee investigating Havana syndrome attacks on US soil (Vox)
- Migrants Separated From Their Children Will Be Allowed Into U.S. (NYT, $)
- Border Patrol joins police to stop illegal crossings in Texas, Arizona (USA Today)
- Swiss Billionaire Quietly Becomes Influential Force Among Democrats (NYT, $). Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
- Florida Republicans rushed to curb mail voting after Trump’s attacks on the practice. Now some fear it could lower GOP turnout. (WaPo, $)
- The Stimulus Child Tax Credit Could Help End Extreme Poverty (Atlantic)
- Republican runoff: Texas Congressional election heads to runoff with two Republicans in the lead (CBS)
- Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe (NYT, $)
- Republicans took an ax to Obama’s rules. Democrats are using a scalpel. (Politico)
The Wolverines We Never Knew We Relied On
- Michael Lewis, heralded author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Blind Side, and The Big Short, has a new book out, The Premonition. The book gives us the details of how the coronavirus was able to spread so quickly in the US — it’s also a sweeping indictment of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Lewis says a public health doctor in California named Charity Dean is one of the people who saw the real danger of the virus before the rest of the country did. He writes about how Dean tried and tried to get the state officials around her to look at the data and act to make sure the virus didn’t spread. She put it all on the line, her reputation, her job. Across the country, there was another group of doctors led by Carter Mescher trying to do the same thing at the federal level.
- Lewis says: “It was incredible to me that there was this kind of secret group of seven doctors — they called themselves the Wolverines — who were positioned in interesting places in and around the federal government, who had been together for the better part of 15 years and who had come together whenever there was a threat of a disease outbreak to help organize the country’s response.”
- But by 2020, the Trump administration had disbanded the pandemic response unit.
- The doctors were forced to go rogue. A mutual acquaintance put Dean in touch with Mescher. Dean was thrilled that she’d met someone who was thinking about this threat the same way she was. Very quickly she figured out there were no generals leading the war against the virus — including the head of the CDC, Robert Redfield — so she became a sort of battlefield commander trying to “organize the strategy on the field.”
- There was a huge mistake early on. In January and February of 2020, hundreds of Americans in Wuhan, China, were flown back to the US. Considering how many people had died of COVID-19 in China at that point, it would have made sense to test those Americans who were coming back. But according to Lewis and his sources, then-CDC Director Redfield refused to test them, saying it would amount to doing research on imprisoned persons.
- “Redfield is a particularly egregious example, but he’s an expression of a much bigger problem. And if you just say, ‘oh, it’s the Trump administration’ or ‘oh, it’s Robert Redfield,’ you’re missing the bigger picture,” Lewis says. “And the bigger picture is we as a society have allowed institutions like the CDC to become very politicized. And this is a larger pattern in the U.S. government. More and more jobs being politicized, more and more people in these jobs being on shorter, tighter leashes. More the kind of person who ends up in the job being someone who is politically pleasing to whoever happens to be in the White House. And so … the conditions for Robert Redfield being in that job were created long ago.” (NPR)
- Air pollution spikes may impair older men’s thinking, study finds (Guardian)
- Kroger will begin drone deliveries in Ohio this week (ArsTechnica)
- The fight to dethrone Apple debuts in a California courtroom (Politico)
- Facebook says decision on whether Trump ban will be overturned coming Wednesday (CNN)
- Verizon Sells Off AOL And Yahoo To Private Equity Firm (NPR)
- Eleven Madison Park Goes Meatless (NYT, $)
- A Border Town Confronts the Reality of Police Surveillance (Wired)
- Where’s the Dark Matter? Look for Suspiciously Warm Planets (Wired). The research has been tough going, but it’s mind over matter.
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