Geopolitics

South Sudan Toll, Ukraine-Russia "Historic" Deal, Warmest November

Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs has died aged 84
Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs has died aged 84
Worldcrunch

RISING DEATH TOLL IN SOUTH SUDAN
Between 400 and 500 people have died in the past three-plus days of clashes between opposing army factions in South Sudan, the BBC reports, citing UN officials. This comes as former vice-president and opposition leader-in-exile Riek Machar told the Paris-based Sudan Tribunethat he didn’t orchestrate a coup attempt, instead describing the unrest that began Sunday as a move by President Salva Kiir to purge rivals.

UKRAINE HAILS “HISTORIC” DEAL WITH RUSSIA
Standing in front of Parliament this morning, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov defended what he called a “historic” deal signed a day earlier with Russia that he says will bring some relief to the country’s economy. For another angle on the Ukrainian crisis, read this Gazeta Wyborcza/Worldcrunch piece: How Ukranian-EU Dreaming Looks From Poland

MERKEL CALLS FOR EU TREATY REFORM
As she began her third term as Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel called for new reforms to European Union treaties, in order to push ahead with stronger fiscal and banking unions, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports.

PHILIPPINES LAUNCH $8 BILLION RECONSTRUCTION PLAN
The Philippines government announced an $8.2 billion plan to rebuild parts of the country that were destroyed last month by Typhoon Haiyan, The Philippine Star reports. Most of the budget will be allocated to providing “shelter and resettlement” to the victims. According to AFP, President Benigno Aquino appealed for international aid to help fund the project.

FREEDOM IMMINENT FOR PUSSY RIOT?
The Russian Parliament will vote Wednesday on a major amnesty bill, backed by Vladimir Putin that includes the release of the 30 Greenpeace activists and the two jailed members of Pussy Riot, on top of thousands of Russians citizens, The Guardian reports. If the bill is voted into law, the liberations could take place as soon as tomorrow.

BY THE NUMBERS

November 2013 was the warmest ever recorded, worldwide. It was, however, a bit chilly in some places.

FAREWELL
Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs dies aged 84. What a ride.

CRIME INT’L
Vietnamese police arrest nursery school teachers after video shows them abusing children.

LET’S GET TOGETHER AND BE ALRIGHT
Rob Ford, who said he had quit drinking after experiencing a “come to Jesus moment”, forgot all his troubles for a short moment as he danced to Bob Marley during a council session.

UNLUCKIEST WOMAN EVER?
Last Friday (the 13th, by the way) she played Euromillions instead of her usual Loto, where the series of numbers she always plays came up, DNA reports.

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Ideas

Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.


This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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