Saturday, the 30th of June
The moors are burning. Antarctica is rising. And we've got ourselves a palm oil addiction. All the while, persistent economic disparity between the global north and south continues to allow for (and even encourage) illegal deforestation. This week we roundup the latest news on Earth (or rather, on the Earth).
An illegal logging camp in Para State, Brazil. PHOTO: Lunae Parracho / Greenpeace
Accelerating in reverse
We're a fortnight into the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and half of the world's people have been watching football non-stop for the past two weeks. So let's kick things off (see what I did there?) with an analogy that people will get. A new study shows that in 2017 slightly more than a football field worth of forest was logged every second. Picture a dusty brown soccer pitch appearing in the middle of the pristine South American rainforest. Now another one just next to it, and another. Deforestation is intensifying the worst effects of climate change and there is little will to stop it.

There is sadly nothing positive to be taken from the latest figures. Since 2008, tree-cover loss in rainforest systems has doubled. Brazil's notable efforts in 2016 to slow the deforestation of its savannah were reversed last year. Known as the cerrado, the country's vast expanse of woodland is an invaluable carbon sink. Last year it was logged at a faster rate than the Amazon itself. The nation's biodiversity and climate change commitments are just part of the picture. Brazil's political class has been plagued by corruption and instability and as a consequence the stalled regulations have allowed illegal loggers to ply their trade. Wealthy countries are not immune to this instability: in both America and Australia too, governments institute safeguards only to see them torn up by successors.

Scandinafrican furniture
Deforestation often benefits the wealthiest countries (which often have far stricter rules on felling their own trees). In the Democratic Republic of Congo - one of the world's least secure nations - lush rainforest is lost every day. One would be hard-pressed in most places to find a timber-company that doesn't over-extract from its plots, but in the DRC there are almost no constraints. Here, at-risk timber from the Congolese forests is being illegally felled by the nation's largest logger in response to demand for artisanal African wood in Europe. There remains an unbroken line connecting foreign extraction of the continent's natural resources to the Scramble for Africa. Westerners may well fund satellites to monitor deforestation in realtime but that won't change a thing if we are content to sit on couches made from Amazonian or Congolese timber.

Staying power
An old enemy reared its head again this week: palm oil. Since 1990 Indonesia has lost a full quarter of its rainforest due to the slash-and-burn of palm oil manufacturers. The scale of the problem is immense: not only do billions of people use the cheap product for cooking oil, it also makes an appearance in the ingredients list of half the packaged items in the average American supermarket. Bottom line: as the most productive oil crop, palm oil is not going anywhere. But the world's endangered orang-utans and tigers certainly are. Research released this week argued that if the palm oil industry were to switch to soy beans or corn even larger tracts of forest would be lost. In other words, the damage would simply be displaced. Activists' attempts to stem the environmental carnage has been piecemeal. Singapore's giant palm oil processor Wilmar announced on Monday that it would stop buying from suppliers accused of deforestation; a laudable declaration even if it came only after significant pressure was put on the company to abide by standards it had set for itself five years ago.

The British may no longer have an empire worth mentioning but they do have a sun that hasn't seemed to set in over a week. Those of us who are less latitudinally-challenged may make light of the '25-degree-Celsius-heatwaves' but this current weather event  (into the 30's) requires a more serious look. The parched lowlands of Saddleworth Moor in the north of the country has burnt spectacularly this week; hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to fight a bushfire that looks similar to those in California or Australia. Sadly, such extreme weather events will only become more common for a country once famous for its incessant rain. 

Intense rain
Speaking of rain, the monsoon has come to Mumbai. Locals are contending with flooded alleys, impassable roads, newly formed lakes and the threat of collapsing buildings. Rains have already claimed four lives in a city that seems stuck halfway between a deluge and a deep sea (the Arabian Sea, that is). Despite the increasingly sophisticated modelling that goes into predicting the onset of monsoonal rains there is little that can be done to gird the city's slums, construction sites and shantytowns.

A major metropolis like Mumbai will invariably suffer deaths during the rains, but to its east an even greater tragedy is unfolding. In Bangladesh the refugee camps of Rohingya refugees escaping the pogrom in Myanmar are under serious threat. 880,000 destitute refugees are crammed into just four camps along the border; these hastily erected villages cover the undulating hills and valleys of the wetland. Aid workers have spent months preparing for the monsoon (by levelling hills and relocating families) but the deaths have already begun. The elderly and the young are particularly at risk of being washed away; while everyone is prone to the dangers of wet-weather diseases like diphtheria and malaria. 

Some positives
Scientists have long warned that the collapse and rapid melting of the West Antarctica ice sheet could have devastating effects on coastlines around the world. While warmer ocean temperatures are indeed disrupting Antarctica's seasonal cycle, we've received a small piece of good news this week. It is now believed that the bedrock on which West Antarctica sits is rising far more rapidly than previously thought. As the landmass rises it actually forces out the warmer seawater that had made inroads under the ice sheet. This phenomenon may slow the worst effects of a warming Southern Ocean - for now. Also from the continent this week: researchers published the coldest temperatures ever recorded: -97.6 degrees Celsius. This naturally sparked cries of, "how can this be possible if the globe is warming" from the section of the community seemingly without object permanence. 

And yet, amidst all this mostly-dire news there is still hope. From the campuses of New Delhi to the streets of Sheffield people are resisting efforts to tear down trees. Actions that occur locally can prompt national and even international change. Norway has pledged millions of Euros to set up an Interpol task force to prosecute forest crimes, and Pakistan's quiet effort to plant hundreds of millions of trees is receiving the attention it deserves. 
What favourites? PHOTO: Hannibal Hanschke / Reuters
And then there were 16. After two glorious weeks of the World Cup group stage we are into knockout territory. There have been howlers, VAR snafus, deft goals and ugly ones. The most expensive (if not valuable) player in the world - Brazil's Neymar Jr. - took the dark art of diving to lofty new heights (lows) in a performance that really needs to be seen to be believed. His antics are exasperating; so much so that one bar in Rio de Janeiro is sending out free shots to patrons every time their star drops to the ground. 

There are some notable absences from the second leg of the competition and first amongst them is Germany. Brazil and Argentina may have scraped through by the skin of their teeth, but a tilt at back-to-back cups was beyond the capacity of the men in white-and-black; their early exit has left a sour taste in the mouths of Germans and of bookkeepers everywhere. There will also be no fairytale for Mo Salah and Egypt. A ferocious Serbian team too faltered at key moments, and the Senegalese tragically came up short in their last game against Colombia.

But in football agony is just a heartbeat away from ecstasy. Mexico was very nearly pushed out of the World Cup during its 3-0 shellacking by the Swedes, but was saved from an ignominious exit by an unlikely ally. South Korea won a famous victory over Germany - scoring both goals in injury time, and allowing Mexico to leapfrog the vanquished Die Mannschaft. Mexico City erupted in jubilation; a procession of dancing (and drunk) Mexicans marched to the South Korean embassy, plied its ambassador with tequila and proclaimed, "Brother, now you're Mexican!"

Game on.
An oil tank in Ras Lanuf damaged by the fighting. PHOTO: Reuters
Libya's internationally (if not locally) recognised government has suffered yet another humiliating setback: losing control of vital oil ports in the east. The troubled nations' leaders in Tripoli called for international support after Haftar Khalifa (a powerful warlord) seized Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra in the name of a breakaway government. Khalifa's parallel state operating in the east of the country does not recognise Tripoli's authority and has claimed crucial oil production and distribution facilities. Oil is the lifebuoy to which Libya's rival powers cling, and now (as always) there is little for everyday Libyans to grasp.

Seven years on from the 2011 NATO intervention, Libya continues to be wracked by conflict. The light-touch assault favoured by then-President Barack Obama may have wiped out Muammar Gaddafi's military but it did little to win a lasting peace. Western-backed militias hunted down the dictator, sodomised him with a bayonet, and summarily executed him. And unsurprisingly, tribal militias, warlords and Islamist terror groups have poured into the vacuum left by the African strongman.

In other news the Libyan militiaman accused of orchestrating the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi has been jailed for 22 years. A District Court court handed down the sentence for the 2012 attack which left the American ambassador and three others dead. That outburst of violence became a lightning rod for radical conservative conspiracy theorists who blamed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the deaths. Blame that followed her all the way to election day. 
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir mediated the conference. PHOTO: Reuters
  1. South Sudan's two warring leaders (President Salva Kiir and perennial rebel Riek Machar) signed a ceasefire agreement in a bid to end the bloodshed; hopefully it's ninth time lucky
  2. US President Donald Trump reiterated his penchant for 'big summit' diplomacy and announced talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to be held in July
  3. Trump revoked additional sanctions-relief for Iran as rare anti-austerity protests swept across Tehran; the Rial has crashed following the nuclear deal collapse
  4. Mumbai's sweeping new plastic-packaging laws came into effect; the powerful city council fined 86 businesses for continuing to stock and use single-use plastics
  5. Uber won back the right to operate a taxi license in the city of London after a protracted legal dispute with Transport for London
  6. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe's general-turned-president, survived an apparent assassination attempt while campaigning in Bulawayo
  7. Satellite photos revealed that just nine days after the summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un North Korea accelerated construction at a nuclear facility
  8. Saudi Arabian women took to the roads (legally) for the first time, yet within days reports emerged of yet another female activist being jailed for pursuing those very reforms
  9. Malaysian police seized goods worth US$273m from ex-leader Najib Razak's properties, apparently his wife had a penchant for designer brands that was worthy of Imelda Marcos
  10. A gunman shot dead five staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland just days after Trump proclaimed the media to be "the enemy of the people"
The iconic Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo. PHOTO: AFP
The entirely false legal distortion of terra nullius ("nobody's land") was used to justify European colonisation and the possession of Australia in the 18th century. Now, the racist underpinnings of this argument have been dealt another blow with the discovery of a 13th century sketch of an Australian (or Papua New Guinean) cockatoo. Buried deep in the Vatican library was an image which suggests that well-developed trade routes had already stretched from Australia and New Guinea all the way to Europe.

A breakthrough in diabetes treatment could change tens of millions of lives. A team at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has developed a working insulin pill; a 'miracle drug' long sought. Despite the skyrocketing incidence of Type 1 diabetes, treatment still involves taking one or more injections per day. The other options are invasive insulin pumps or therapy avoidance. So a pill is nothing short of a life-changer for up to 40 million people.
A familiar image: another bloodied child pulled from the wreckage of an airstrike. PHOTO: AFP

Back in 2011 a group of teenagers spray-painted anti-regime slogans on a wall in the southern Syrian city of Deraa. Their arrest and torture sparked a vicious civil war that created the world's worst humanitarian disaster since the WWII. This week Bashar al-Assad's forces began 'softening' Deraa with airstrikes (most of the city's hospitals have been flattened). The regime's aerial war crimes will continue unabated - despite the hand-wringing in the West - until the resisting force has been eliminated. Homs, Hama, Madaya, Aleppo, East Ghouta, Yarmouk, and now Deraa. 

The national mood in Thailand remains desperate and hopeful as time runs out for a missing junior football team and their coach. The squad (mostly 12- and 13-year-olds) were trapped inside a cave in Chiang Rai province nearly a week ago after heavy rain flooded a complex underground system. Adverse weather conditions have hampered search parties comprising Thai navy divers, and British and American servicemen. In the meantime the families of the missing hold vigil alongside monks at the cave entrances. 

Your weekend long read... A powerful read from The Financial Times: the fight to own Antarctica. Don't miss this.

Quote of the week... “Who is this stupid God?” - Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte pressed his attack beyond the temporal plane. If heresy doesn't sink a leader in a country with 68m Catholics then nothing will. 

What to watch this weekend... Reactions to Amy Bloom's book which outlines the long and passionate love-affair between US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the journalist Lorena Hickok. It appears as though the White House Press Corp kept the relationship a secret (as they did with FDR's sharply declining health and his own affairs). 

One last thing... 
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Tom Wharton for inkl