On Wednesday the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the world, " we are losing the fight against climate change". It was a prod – to say at the least – aimed at the heads-of-state congregating at the U.N. headquarters in Turtle Bay. Armed with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2019 report, the leaders will discuss the depth and breadth of the challenge we face – as well as our best options for adap tation and mitigation. The fruits of their talks are of critical importance: the four previous years have been the four hottest years in recorded human history – and this July was the hottest month ever.The island nations of the south Pacific are due to take the stage during the summit. Their low elevations above sea level and minuscule carbon footprints make for a unique voice in the global community. They'll be joined by a handful of European powers who have – amid a glaring lack of American leadership – taken up the mantle of decarbonisation. Coal is in the spotlight, and Guterres has said that he wants to see explicit plans for how various countries intend to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. While as many as 60 countries are expected to unveil ambitious targets, we can count on one that won't: the host nation. Just this week the White House scrapped California's strict auto emissions regulations. But the US is not alone in shirking responsibility on climate change. The list of countries not due to front up to the lectern also includes Australia, South Korea and Japan. All are wedded to the fossil fuel industries; extracting, exporting, burning.
In the lead-up to the summit, Swedish wunderkind Greta Thunberg sailed into Manhattan with a steadfastness that would put most of us to shame. Naturally, she made waves as soon as she stepped ashore. Her meeting with Barack Obama was catnip for progressives, but the image of the 16-year-old shaking hands with the 44th president was also significant for another reason. Both understand that climate change is anthropogenic. But Obama was an incrementalist who believed in the power of institutions, whereas Thunberg is a radical who has repeatedly questioned whether we can save the world with the institutions as they are currently formatted. Sadly, Obama's environmental legacy lay in tatters within days of his leaving office. Meanwhile, Thunberg continues to galvanise mass support. But whether she can drive substantive change is yet to be seen.
During her US visit, Thunberg also made a trip to Capitol Hill. There, rather than giving testimony before the US Congress, she simply handed over a copy of the IPCC's most recent report . Thunberg implored the American legislators to listen to, and unite behind, the science. It was a power move that showed why she has emerged as a standard bearer for youth disaffection. Sharp critiques of preceding generations have always been a rite of passage for young people, but they are rarely expressed with such startling moral clarity and forcefulness. To put it another way: her generation has got our number. Which is why students were going out on strike all over the globe even as this sentence was written (and yes, inkl too attended the march in Melbourne).
If you sit on a board, or occupy a seat in government, you have an ability (and one would argue - an obligation) to impact decisions far more than the average person. But even if you don't, you still have the ability to make your voice heard, and join the march.
Israelis went to the polls on Tuesday with the intention of breaking a deadlock but instead merely reinforced the impasse. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party has failed for a second time in a year to win government outright. At time of writing, Benny Gantz and his Blue and White coalition, had crept ahead by two votes, though neither bloc is set to achieve a 61-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Now the negotiations begin, and it appears that both Netanyahu and Gantz are pressing for a unity government. The problem is that Netanyahu has insisted he must lead any such arrangement, and has also ruled out working with the Joint List of Israeli Arabs who are aligned with the Blue and White. Similarly, Gantz has laid his own claim to the premiership and, conversely, refused to join a unity government with the religious right on whom Netanyahu depends. The country's longest-serving Prime Minister has watched his popularity ebb in recent years. With his favoured electoral tool – a war in Gaza – out of reach, he campaigned on the proposed annexation of the entire Jordan Valley. But even this was not enough. Netanyahu has, over the years, assumed increasingly radical positions to shore up support from those on Israel's far right (an assortment of would-be ethnic cleansers, the reactionary ultra-orthodox, and war-mongers). His aspiring replacement, Gantz, is laughably referred to as a centrist, which is another way of saying he shares the vast majority of Netanyahu's positions with the notable exception of not supporting the ultra-orthodox. In Israel, as in the US and elsewhere, the mainstreaming of extreme positions is changing what it means to be centrist. Over on the Old Continent, Spain has thus far managed to fly under the radar, probably due to the multi-car pile-up that is Brexit, and whatever you'd call the current state of Italian politics. While attention has been focused on their more flashy neighbours' examples of state-level incompetence, the Spaniards have also been quietly worrying away at their own democratic cohesion. This week acting-Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez admitted that he had failed to convince any other parties to form a government with his Socialist Party. That brings to an end several months of horse-trading (or lack thereof) which began after an inconclusive April election. So now Spain too must go back to the polls, in its case for a fourth election in as many years.Unfortunately, it will also likely return the exact same result as the last one.
This week Tunisians went to the polls in the first round of presidential elections. Initially scheduled for November, the vote was brought forward by two months following the death of sitting president Beji Caid Essebi. Despite the low turnout, the plebiscite delivered a firm rebuke to establishment parties by advancing two political outsiders through to the runoff. Kaïs Saïed and Nabil Karoui will face each other in the next few weeks. While there is much to be done – raising the turnout rate is critical – the progress towards greater enfranchisement in Tunisia is unmistakeable. It remains the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring with a functioning democracy – a fact that ought to be cherished.
But before we start celebrating Tunisia's fledgling democracy, we must also pay homage to the sacrifice that made it possible. On December 16th, 2010, an impoverished street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolated in front of a municipal office in the town of Sidi Bouzid. It was the last act of a desperate man, a victim of corrupt local officials who had confiscated his wares after he failed to pay their regular bribes. The graft of then-dictator Ben Ali had permeated the entire fabric of Tunisia's government; it was a callous greed that immiserated everyday Tunisians. When Bouazizi died in hospital weeks later, news of his death was heard across the region. He was elevated to martyrdom by the millions of people who were being oppressed by autocratic regimes throughout the region. After his funeral, protests spread across Tunis, and then into neighbouring countries.
The Arab Spring would go on to topple many despots, and while illiberalism has proven tenacious in Egypt, Syria, and Bahrain; Tunisia is now a mostly-free country. In a touch of poetic justice, Ben Ali died in exile this week; surrounded with nought but the cold comfort of Saudi riches.
Scientist have discovered three new sub-species of one of the world's most curious animals: the Chinese giant salamander. These are the world's largest amphibians (adults can reach two metres in length) and they are perfect in every way.
Bio-plastic fantasticA 23-year-old product design graduate from the University of Sussex has created a bio-plastic made entirely of fish waste. It's more durable than regular packaging plastic, can be disposed of in the compost and is made of protein from fish scales and red algae. More of this please.
The storm has dumped approximately 40 inches of rain on Texas. Over 1,000 people have been evacuated from flooded suburbs – and while it isn't as bad as many other recent natural disasters, we just wanted to share the above photo .
Dreaming of a dry ChristmasBritish importers have begun stockpiling alcohol ahead of the holiday season due to fears of a no-deal Brexit. If the U.K. is unceremoniously ejected then there will be a shortage of Champagne from Champagne, Port from Porto and Stella Artois from wherever that is made. Perhaps this will help sharpen the minds of the people who quite literally invented the pint.
Quote of the week
"The intelligence community has high confidence that... these were not weapons that would have been in the possession of the Houthis"
– U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo points a shaky finger at Iran over the oil-field strikes in Saudi Arabia. It will be interesting to see how this stacks up against the high confidence that his department had in the false intelligence it touted as jus ad bellum for the US invasion of Iraq.
Headline of the week
'Aloof' yak escapes on way to butchers, visits bed and breakfast then wanders into the mountains – The Independent
This Fiordland crested penguin, native to New Zealand, which swam 2,500km across the Tasman Sea to Australia. It arrived (a bit puffed out) and has spent several months recuperating with the help of marine zoo staff. On Thursday it was released into the wild for an improbable journey home.
Some choice long-reads
- Businessweek remembers that Britain had serious problems even before Brexit, and up there with the worst them was a botched overhaul of social welfare
- Businessweek also checks in on Bayer to find out whether they are regretting their purchase of Monsanto yet
- Foreign Policy visits Iraq's jail cells to meet the former ISIS members from Europe who've been left there to die
EDITOR'S NOTE: We are fortunate to count many brilliant minds amongst our readers, so we've decided to profile some of them in a new series called Portraiture. One such is Nobel laureate Barry Marshall, whose tireless (and dangerous) research proved that Helicobacter pylori bacteria causes stomach ulcers. In the process he also upended a multi-billion dollar industry. You can read it here.