Welcome to Thursday, where Tunisia's president tightens his grip, Lithuania tells people to throw away their Made-in-China phones, and a memeworthy side-eye gets the NFT treatment. Chinese-language weekly Economic Observer also explains why some cities in China waste millions in massive building projects that go unused.
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Myanmar junta abducting children of opposition figures: The United Nations has accused the Myanmar military of abducting infants as young as 20 weeks old as well as other family members when the soldiers are unable to locate those it wishes to arrest. According to the UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, more than 8,000 people have been imprisoned since the junta took power in February in a military coup.
• Tunisian president pushes for one-man rule: President Kais Saied declared that he will rule by degree and shift the political system to give himself what amounts to almost unlimited power. Citing a national emergency, this summer, Saied fired his prime minister and suspended parliament, which his opponents described as a coup in the North African country where the Arab Spring began a decade ago.
• Somalia hosts first public film screening in 30 years: Two short films by Somali director Ibrahim CM were shown at Mogadishu's National Theatre, which had previously been a target for suicide bombs and housed warloads. The event marked a potential cultural revitalization in the conflict-ravaged East African country.
• COVID update: The U.S. authorizes Pfizer booster doses for those 65+, who have pre-existing conditions or work in high-exposure jobs. President Joe Biden also announced 500 million extra vaccine doses will be donated to countries struggling with the pandemic. Another clue into the origin of the coronavirus was discovered by scientists in Laos who found bats in a cave carrying a similar pathogen.
• Algeria closes its airspace to Moroccan planes: Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune adds the latest escalation to a standoff between the two North African neighbors, largely over the disputed Western Sahara territory. Algeria broke off diplomatic ties with its neighbor in August. The latest move is expected to affect only 15 flights weekly, according to Royal Air Maroc.
• Lithuania: throw away Chinese-made cell phones: Citing censorship concerns, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry recommended not purchasing and getting rid of phones made by Chinese behemoth Xiaomi Corp. These devices can detect and censor phrases like "democracy movement," "free Tibet" and "long live Taiwan independence." While this feature is turned off in the European region, it can be activated remotely.
• "Side-eying Chloe" to sell meme as NFT: When she was 2 years old, Chloe Clem gave an aggressively unenthusiastic reaction to a surprise trip to Disneyland. Now, her Utah-based family is auctioning the popular internet meme as an NFT with a starting price of 5 Ethereum, a cryptocurrency that's worth about $15,000. Now that's nothing to frown at.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
Today's front page of Vienna-based daily Kurier warns people to be careful of fake COVID-19 vaccination passports, as the police announce stricter controls amid a rise of forged passes.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Why Chinese cities waste millions on vanity building projects
The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. The latest is a 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting, reports Chen Zhe in the Chinese-language weekly Economic Observer.
🏙️ A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.
💸 The city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu, to boost tourism. He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own would-be "intellectual property". Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million).
🛑 Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
Authorities in Assam, northeastern India, burnt and destroyed 2,479 rare rhino horns during an anti-poaching operation. The horns were seized from illegal traders, or recovered from dead rhinos in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries since 1979. Officials say that it was the world's largest stockpile of rhino horns.
""It's an all-hands-on-deck crisis."
— At a virtual COVID-19 summit organized with the United Nations, Joe Biden urged the world to "go big." He called on world leaders, pharmaceutical executives and civil society organizations to set up a global plan to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. An immediate consensus on a plan was very unlikely as many of the leaders at the summit had sent pre-recorded videos. A deal between the Biden administration and Pfizer was announced on Wednesday: The U.S will buy a further 500 million doses and donate them to nations lacking the shots.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger
Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.
The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.
Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.
This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.
It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."
In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.
Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.
Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.
But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.
In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.