Saturday, the 5th of March

The question...

What has Roman ever done for us?

Talking Points

Artillery and rockets land in a residential neighbourhood. PHOTO: Reuters
  1. Ukrainians fought desperately in the north-western suburbs of Kyiv
  2. While Russians advanced steadily across the south of the country
  3. China asked Russia to delay any invasion until after the Olympics
  4. South Korean hopeful Yoon Suk-yeol got a boost from a rival
  5. A virus forced Toyota to shut its Japanese factories for a day
  6. Israeli courts temporarily halted Sheikh Jarrah evictions
  7. The Jan 6 Committee laid out possible criminal charges for Trump
  8. A judge blocked the Texan crackdown on transgender children
  9. The MLB cancelled the start of basbeball season over a pay dispute
  10. Amazon shuttered its remaining US and UK bookstores

Dive deeper

The waters took days to recede around Lismore. PHOTO: Reuters

The latest IPCC report dropped on the same day that eastern Australia was swamped by the worst floods in years. While we must include all the usual caveats (no one meteorological event is caused by climate change, etc.), you can still don your detective's cap.

Impact, adaptation, vulnerability

On Monday, the International Panel on Climate Change released the Working Group II report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability . Like the title itself, the report made for rather glum reading . TLDR: anthropogenic climate impact is intensifying, accelerating, and its effects are starting to overlap in complex and unpredictable ways. In many corners of the world, heatwaves, droughts, fires, and floods are causing irreversible die-offs. Our ability to adapt to these changes is largely limited to the wealthy few — for the vast majority of people, adaptation is piecemeal, blinkered, and shallow. On other words, vulnerability is everywhere - and growing.

It's worth each of us taking the time to read the Working Group II report , to gain an appreciation of matters beyond the headlines and soundbites. For instance, in the Australasia section - buried in Box 11.4 - is a section titled Changing Flood Risk. It begins, "Pluvial (flash flood from high intensity rainfall) and fluvial (river) flooding are the most costly natural disasters in Australia, averaging A$8.8 billion per year... Extreme rainfall is projected to become more intense ( high confidence )... Adaptation to changing flood risks is currently mostly reactive and incremental in response to flood and heavy rainfall events ( high confidence )."

The atmospheric river

At about the same time that the IPCC report was being released, an atmospheric low was developing over the east coast of Australia and starting to pull moisture south from the Coral Sea. La Niña (warmer surface t emperatures in the Western Pacific, greater evaporation, and more cloud formation) invigorated the process. The result was that, in the week to February 28, the unsuitably named Mount Glorious in the state of Queensland recorded a most inglorious 1.7m (or 70 inches) of rain. The nearby city of Brisbane, home to 2.3 million people, received 80% of its average annual rainfall in just three days. A dam upstream of the city swelled up from 58% full the previous Thursday, to 185% on Monday . Little wonder then that Brisbane's eponymous river burst its banks most spectacularly. Low-lying suburbs that had been inundated in Australia's disastrous 2011 floods were once again subaqueous. And the worst was yet to come.

South of Queensland lies the state of New South Wales (home to Sydney). Here too, the 'Northern Rivers' region suffered grievously. The bounteous streams and rivers here rose most precipitously. One, the Wilsons River, rose by a catastrophic 14.3m to claim four lives, and reclaim its floodplain in dramatic fashion, completely submerging the town of Lismore (pop. 25k) in the process. For most people who could not get out in time, their roof was the only safe harbor, while residents frantically, often heroically, tried to ferry neighbours to higher ground in dinghies.

Après nous, le déluge

Donations have poured into flood-affected areas as residents begin the agonising process of cleaning up. But as these tragedies grow more frequent they appear to be exhausting our reserves of goodwill and sympathy. Shane Stone , head of Australia's National Resilience and Recovery Agency had this to say, "You've got people who want to live among the gum trees — what do you think is going to happen? Their house falls in the river and they say it's the government's fault. Australians need to have an honest conversation about where and how people build homes. The taxpayer and the ratepayer cannot continue to pick up the bill for these huge, catastrophic damage events." Setting aside Stone's extraordinary insensitivity, there is something worth discussing in his message. The IPCC report nods to this as well, calling for "planning and land use decisions, including managed retreat where it is inevitable". One of the outcomes of climate change is that Australians (and everyone else) will need to rethink where they live. Those highly prized foreshore and hinterland addresses will be among the first we have to disband, as will the vulnerable floodplains that house huge numbers of humans today. But exactly what these retreats will entail, and when they must begin, is still too difficult a topic for many — particularly those rendered homeless by disaster — to contend with. The only certainty now is that this will get worse .

It's worth reflecting on how United Nations chief António Guterres described the report, "an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership". Australia's conservative government has for the past decade thwarted, delayed, and weakened every meaningful action on climate change. The country has become a climate pariah, and now ranks among the world's heaviest polluters. Insurers down under are already refusing to offer insurance in fire and flood-prone parts of the country, leaving the government as insurer-of-last-resort (which was the point Stone was inarticulately trying to make). If you'd like an even clearer explanation, just flick to Box 11.3.2 of the Australasia section of the IPCC report. It's right there under the headline "Consequences influenced by hazards, exposure, vulnerability, and adaptation options". The only thing missing is the stinging irony that a spokesperson of the Australian government is decrying the result of a problem his own colleagues have refused to tackle.


The information war. PHOTO: AP

The revolution is being televised

If you open TikTok right now you'll see, sandwiched between dance tutorials and cooking hacks, a column of Russian tanks tearing through a smouldering city. It may not be the first 'social media war' (as some have asserted) but the invasion of Ukraine certainly marks the first time a billion people can log onto an app to watch the numbing, blood-splattered aftermath of an airstrike. You may consider this a good thing, but an unfiltered barrage of war-porn is hardly the best way to learn about conflict.

That said, it's not as though traditional media has done a bang-up job either. Firstly, there’s the tunnel-vision. An investigation by Mint Press found that in a single week Fox News, The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC ran nearly 1,300 stories about the Ukraine invasion, but only two stories about Israel’s missile strike in Syria, one about Somalia, and none about Yemen – the site of perhaps the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. In all this blanket coverage, it seems it’s also easy to forget about the near half-million displaced people fleeing the civil war in Cameroon.

The blanket coverage of Ukraine reveals more than it intends to. It is not just that a war is occurring, it is that it is being fought on European soil. CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata’s was visibly distressed at "civilised, relatively European" people fleeing a war-zone. A former deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine was saddened by "blue eyes and blond hair" being killed. A British reporter, describing the use of thermobaric munitions, lamented "a sort of vacuum bomb, which to be fair the US has used before in Afghanistan, but the idea of it being used in Europe is stomach-churning". Even more explicit was BFM TV’s Phillipe Corbé, "we’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing…we’re talking about Europeans that look like ours…"

This shock at Europeans fighting is both woefully ahistorical (the Bosnian genocide isn't even three decades old at this point) and highly-prominent in the Western media. Bias is now tragically overt.

The former holders of the CRISPR patent. PHOTO: The Conversation

Scissors and gavels

Gene-editing technology is coming along in leaps and bounds. This week, the University of Massachusetts Medical School revealed glowing data from their first attempt at using an injectable CRISPR to fight toxic proteins. Transthyretin (TTR) amyloidosis is a condition in which misfolded liver proteins accumulate over time causing nerve pain and heart problems. The research team infused the blood of those suffering from TTR build-up with gene-editors designed to stop the production of the mutated cells. A year on from the trial the levels of the toxic protein have stayed low — a reduction of 93% in one case!

The biotech company behind the development of this novel treatment is the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Intellia. But instead of being rewarded with a share-price hike on the good news, on Tuesday Intellia suffered its worst drop in five years. The reason for this is that on the very day that the TTR results were delivered, the US Patent and Trademark Office invalidated a key patent that the therapy was built on. The ruling was made against the patent holders; Jennifer Doudna (University of California, Berkeley) and Emmanuelle Charpentier (University of Vienna). The Nobel Prize winning pair had failed to prove they were the first to use CRIPSR on animals. The ruling also raises profound questions around licensing (and profitability) for any number of biotech companies using the technology today.

The best of times

What do you think the banner was made out of? PHOTO: AFP

BYO knife, fork, hope

Critics may deride the UN as a body in which the main agenda for each meeting is planning the next one. But this week the UN agreed to a really, really important meeting. The Environment Assembly met in Nairobi and passed with unanimity the creation of a committee to negotiate a legally-binding plastics treaty by 2024 . There are a lot of qualifiers in that sentence, so let's just zoom out a little: we are choking our planet with plastics and all 193 member states say they want to change it.

Slow fashion

Before the colonial pillage of the East India Company the weavers and spinners of Bengal were world famous. The prized Dhaka muslin was worn by the wealthy and powerful everywhere in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today the textile is being reborn in Bangladesh on the hand looms of yore.

The worst of times

Expect to see a lot more elephants in captivity. PHOTO: Reuters

Let's get off this ride

Today there are just 27,000 elephants left in India’s diminishing wild spaces. One of the few restraints on the decline is a ban on the sale of these noble beasts. Which is why a proposal from New Delhi to legalise the private trade has been met with utter disbelief.

Canada's shame

Another Canadian ‘residential’ school, another buried horror. This week the remains of 169 people were discovered in a mass grave on the site of the former Grouard Mission. The flowers of the Kapawe’no First Nation, generations of them, laid low by a brutal assimilationist policy.

Weekend Reading

The image

The demonic figure of El Tio ( 'The Uncle' ) is worshipped as the lord of the underworld by the miners of Bolivia. With the right mix of tribute (llamas blood, coca leaves, wine, cigarettes) El Tio will grant protection deep underground in the zinc and silver mines. Photo supplied by AFP .

The quote

"Whose side is India on? We are on our side. The cyclical bursts of Cold War antagonism are tiresome"

Panjak Saran , India's former ambassador to Russia. Tiresome indeed.

The numbers

15,917 tonnes of luxury

- The monstrous Dilbar, built by German shipbuilder Luerssen, is the world's largest superyacht by gross tonnage. The 156m floating palace is a tribute at the altar of Alisher Usmanov's gratuitous wealth and vanity. But this week the Russian billionaire's seagoing $600m plaything was seized in a Hamburg shipyard as part of a global effort to take punitive action against Russian oligarchs.

$11 per bushel

- Let's shift our focus from the oil price to wheat futures. Black Sea ports despatch one quarter of the world's wheat exports . Right now, due to the ongoing invasion and subsequent sanctions, that trade has ground to a halt. Wheat futures are soaring and bakery prices will follow. Egypt is in a perilous situation: in 2020 86% of its wheat imports came from Russia and Ukraine. Oil we may be able to live without; food, we will not.

The headline

"We are more influenced by media consumed through headphones than speakers, study finds" The Independent . Should we make the Wrap a podcast, then?

The special mention

Our special mention this week goes to China's space program for firing the first shot at humanity's oldest enemy: the moon. By the time you read this the booster rocket from China's Chang'e 5-T1 mission will have slammed into the Hertzsprung crater on the moon at nearly 9,000km per hour and will have left its own crater. That'll you for messing with our tides.

A few choice long-reads

  • Just gaze lovingly upon this headline from Businessweek: A Billionaire's Heir Hangs Up His Healing Crystal to Fix Capitalism.
  • How did a scrappy prison gang become one of the most powerful criminal cartels on the planet with a worldwide drug business? Financial Times with a beauty.
  • Foreign Policy delves into the upside-down world of QAnon beliefs (namely, that Russia invaded Ukraine to blow up US bioweapons labs that were building the next coronvairus...)

The answer...

Not enough, according to Chelsea. Stamford Bridge may have had to install a new trophy cabinet during the Abramovich era but the Russian oligarch is selling the club. To the immense relief of the bean counters Roman is also doing some charitable debt forgiveness (£1.4bn he has loaned the club from his pocket).

Tom Wharton