How the island kingdom of Bahrain wants to revive its natural pearl industry

An island kingdom just off the Arabian Peninsula, known as the first emirate nation to discover oil in 1932, wants to re-establish itself as the global center for sustainable pearls.

Natural pearls are one of the most sustainable and ethical luxury gems, both conflict-free and climate-friendly. With pearl beds bigger than Manhattan, Bahrain is looking to revive its traditional pearl industry – once the backbone of the country’s economy, CNN reports.

For centuries, Bahrainis have free-dived to collect pearl oysters from the sea floor. “Most families, before the discovery of oil in Bahrain, were associated with the trade of pearling — from merchants to divers, drillers, dealers,” says Faten Ebrahim Mattar, a sixth-generation pearl merchant from the Mattar family, which has been in the business since the 1850s

“Working in the natural pearl business is one of the toughest trades, due to the rarity of your star element,” she says.

According to Mattar, Bahrain has a reputation as the “Mecca of Pearling.” In 2012 UNESCO declared the Bahraini pearl beds a World Heritage site, calling the region the “last remaining complete example of the cultural tradition of pearling and the wealth it generated at a time when the trade dominated the Gulf economy.”

“Our geographic location as an island in the middle of the trade route from Iraq to India attributed to Bahrain being an important marketplace for this business,” says Mattar. She adds that some marine biologists believe that convergence of saltwater with fresh natural springs in the middle of the Gulf creates a unique environment for pearls to grow with high luster.

Though the value of the natural pearl plummeted after the advent of cultured pearls in Japan in the early 1900s, the gems are experiencing a renaissance as consumers look for more responsibly sourced jewelry and one-of-a-kind pieces. 

Natural pearls as “ultra-luxury”

At the beginning of the 20th century, to own a perfectly shaped pearl was a sign of extravagant wealth. Though a pearl necklace may no longer be traded for a New York townhouse, today natural pearl jewelry can fetch upwards of $300,000 at auction with some historic pieces selling for up to $32 million.

Natural pearls occur when a foreign object – such as a grain of sand, or parasite – finds its way inside a pearl oyster. To protect itself, the oyster produces an iridescent mineral substance to engulf the object.

With natural pearls occurring in only 1 in 10,000 oysters and each one growing organically over several years into a unique shape, every natural pearl is both rare and inimitable.

Unlike cultivated pearls from farms, which often involves deliberately inserting a foreign object (usually a bead) into the oyster and can be damaging to the environment, Bahrain’s natural pearls develop without any human interference.

Collection is done in the least obtrusive way with licensed divers carefully gathering oysters by hand, says Noora Jamsheer, CEO of the Bahrain Institute for Pearls and Gemstones (DANAT), which was established in 2017 to support a national plan to revive the pearl sector.

In collaboration with the Supreme Council for the Environment and the Coast Guard, DANAT monitors and shields the health of the pearl beds, periodically suspending diving in certain areas to allow for growth. The institute tests and certifies the pearls and offers hands-on pearl grading education.

Despite being impacted by the pandemic, DANAT says the natural pearl market is seeing steady growth. According to the institute, all parts of the industry in Bahrain have grown in the last year, and 2021 saw significant growth in the number of pearl diving licenses issued – including, for the first time, licenses being given to female pearl divers.

“We saw a strong rebound in 2021 in the growth in the luxury market,” says Jamsheer. “We’re not talking about the Guccis and the Louis Vuittons; it’s happening in the sector of ultra-luxury, extremely exclusive, one of a kind – and this is where natural pearls fall.”

Back in style

The greatest challenge to the natural pearl market today is the cultured pearl, says Kenneth Scarratt, president of the International Confederation of Jewelry (CIBJO) Pearl Commission.

Scarratt, a world-renowned expert who has worked in the pearl sector for 50 years and helped run DANAT when the institute first launched, says that the crash in value of the natural pearl was caused by the advent of cultured pearls in Japan, followed by the Great Depression in the 1930s.

“Once the Great Depression was over, the cultured pearl business had grown exponentially,” says Scarratt. “The super-rich were no longer buying pearls, but cultured pearls were an affordable option for the ordinary person.”

To the untrained eye, cultured pearls are indistinguishable from natural ones. With natural pearls making millions at auction and their cultured counterpart available for as little as $50, it’s easy to see why consumers would opt for the perfect imitation.

But Scarratt says he has seen interest in natural pearls rematerialize over the past decade. “There’s a growing segment of the market that looks out for what is rare. That segment of the market is looking for natural pearls,” he explains.

Scarratt says most of the pearls found in Bahrain are “seed pearls,” small pearls used in intricate jewelry designs and high fashion garments. “They have a particularly nice appearance,” he adds.

These Bahraini seed pearls are back in demand as new jewelry houses emerge and established jewelers start to reimagine natural pearls in contemporary designs.

“The generations who came after the birth of cultivated pearls, who haven’t been exposed to natural pearls, don’t necessarily know the difference between a cultivated and a natural pearl,” says Mattar. “Our biggest goal is to educate the world on the alluring beauty of the natural pearl, especially Bahraini pearls, by introducing new concepts and creating world class jewelry that instil the love of this gem.”

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A toxic gas leak killed 6 persons in India

Six workers at a dyeing and printing mill in India were killed and more than 20 were taken to hospital on Thursday after inhaling toxic gas caused by an illegal dump of waste chemicals, CNN reports.

The disaster took place in the industrial city of Surat in Gujarat state at about 4 a.m. The workers were in the mill when some chemicals were dumped nearby, police and a fire officer said.

“Chemicals were being illegally discharged from a tanker into a rivulet close to the mill, which possibly reacted with another chemical in the water and created toxic gas,” the chief fire officer of Surat Municipal Corporation, Basant Pareek, told Reuters.

“The workers inhaled the gas and started feeling suffocation. When we reached the scene, the workers were found collapsed on the road in their attempt to escape.”

Six workers died while 23 people were hospitalized, seven in critical condition and on ventilators, Pareek said. Senior police official Sharad Singhal said officers were investigating but had yet to make any arrests. “This was not an accidental gas leakage. Hazardous chemicals were being discharged when the incident took place,” he said.

India suffered the world’s worst industrial disaster in 1984 when methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide factory owned by American Union Carbide Corporation in the city of Bhopal, killing more than 5,000 people.

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Nuclear energy scares people. The climate crisis is giving it another chance

Growing up in Finland, Iida Ruishalme had a deep affinity for nature — particularly the forest, where she loved to go trekking with her dogs. Now, she’s worried that her daughters won’t experience such idyllic days as the climate crisis accelerates. So last month, she boarded a night train from Switzerland to join protests in the German capital Berlin.

Ruishalme agrees the world needs more wind farms and solar panels. But what she and her fellow demonstrators really want is a commitment to something else: nuclear energy, CNN reports.

“We have to give this technology a chance,” the Mothers for Nuclear member said, joining dozens of others who stood with signs outside the city’s famous Brandenburg Gate.

Nuclear power is one of the most reliable low-carbon sources of energy available, but memories of accidents at Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island still loom large, fueling skepticism and fear and deterring investors from funding new projects. 

Nuclear plants are also notoriously expensive to build. Construction tends to run over budget and time, and wind and solar energy has typically come out cheaper. How to safely store the radioactive waste it produces is another headache.

Germany began winding down its nuclear industry following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, when an earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown of three reactors in one of the worst nuclear incidents of all time. All six reactors still operating in Germany should be shut by the end of next year.

Demonstrators in support of nuclear power outside Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on Saturday, November 13.
Demonstrators in support of nuclear power outside Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on Saturday, November 13.

Yet the scale of the climate crisis is encouraging other governments and investors to give the nuclear industry another look.

Whether the world invests heavily into nuclear will depend on what people have the stomach for. Ruishalme, for one, hopes they’ll put their anxieties aside.

“Our gut feelings don’t produce ready-made solutions,” she said, adding that she too once considered it “too risky,” but changed her mind after researching the pros and cons.

Europe’s big decision

Nuclear energy currently accounts for about 10% of the world’s electricity production. In some countries, the share is even larger. The United States and the United Kingdom generate roughly 20% of their electricity from nuclear energy. In France, it’s 70%, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The world is now at a nuclear crossroads: It could scale up nuclear as a sturdy energy source to keep emissions down, or throw all its money behind renewables, which are quicker to build and more profitable — but sometimes patchy.

Advocates emphasize that nuclear power flows even when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. 

“We need renewables to be complemented by a reliable, 24/7 energy source,” said James Hansen, a climate scientist at Columbia University who also took part in the Berlin demonstration.

The UK government agrees. It supports the construction of the country’s first nuclear power station in more than two decades in southwestern England. US President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package, meanwhile, includes $6 billion in grants to keep older plants running. And President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that France would begin building new plants for the first time in nearly 20 years.

That puts France and Germany at odds with each other ahead of a crucial decision by the European Union on whether to classify nuclear as “green” or “transitional” on a controversial list of sustainable energy sources set to be unveiled Wednesday. The outcome could unleash a wave of fresh funding, or leave nuclear on the outside.

The Grohnde nuclear power station in Lower Saxony, Germany. It will be decommissioned later this month.
The Grohnde nuclear power station in Lower Saxony, Germany. It will be decommissioned later this month.

EU climate chief Frans Timmermans recently indicated that both nuclear and natural gas — which is made up mostly of the greenhouse gas methane — could qualify for green financing.

“I think we need to find a way of recognizing that these two energy sources play a role in the energy transition,” he said at an event hosted by Politico. “That does not make them green, but it does acknowledge the fact that nuclear being zero emissions are very important to reduce emissions, and that natural gas will be very important in transiting away from coal into renewable energy.”

While nuclear power produces zero emissions when generated, the uranium required to make it needs to be mined, and that process emits greenhouse gases. Nonetheless, an analysis by the European Commission concluded that emissions from nuclear are around the same as wind energy and less than solar when the full cycle of production is taken into account.

Hansen, a longtime advocate for nuclear power, said it’s crucial in global efforts to decarbonize, and that Germany shouldn’t use its political clout to stand in the way of fresh investment.

“The consequence of treating it as not sustainable is we’re not going to have a pathway to limit climate change to the level that young people are now demanding,” he said. “It’s really important that Germany not be able to impose this policy on the rest of Europe and on the world.” 

But German politicians and experts argue that high costs and the time it takes to build new plants — no fewer than five years, and often much longer — mean money would be better spent elsewhere. 

The latest UN-backed climate science shows the world should nearly halve emissions over this decade to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a vital cap to avoid worsening climate impacts. The world must also shoot for net-zero by mid-century. That means emissions must be reduced as much as possible, and the rest captured or offset. 

Current pledges, including those made at the recent COP26 climate summit in Scotland, only get the world around one-quarter of the way there, according to Climate Action Tracker.

The International Energy Agency says that nuclear power generation should more than double between 2020 and 2050 in the pursuit of net-zero. Its share in the electricity mix will drop, but that’s because demand for power will soar as the world electrifies as many machines as possible, including cars and other vehicles.

Yet Ben Wealer, who researches nuclear power economics at the Technical University of Berlin, argues that the world can’t wait for new nuclear plants, especially since the next eight years are so crucial to decarbonizing. 

“Looking at the time frames, it cannot be a huge help in combating climate change,” he said. “It blocks the cash we need for renewables.

“Even if the world did have more time, delays are a problem. The Hinkley Point C plant in the United Kingdom, for example, is now to be completed in mid-2026, six months later than planned, and its costs are rising. The latest price tag was as much as £23 billion ($30 billion), about £5 billion ($6.6 billion) more than when the project was launched in 2016. 

German officials also argue that the lack of a global plan for storing toxic waste should disqualify nuclear as a “sustainable” energy source.

Christoph Hamann, an official at Germany’s federal office for nuclear waste management, emphasized that government efforts to construct sites below ground where waste can be stored indefinitely remain a work-in-progress.

“We’re talking about a very toxic, high radioactive waste, which is producing problems for the next tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years. And we’re directing this problem, when using nuclear power, to future generations,” Hamann said.

Wave of funding

It’s not just Europe that’s mulling more nuclear. The most energetic push is in China, where there are 18 reactors under construction as the world’s biggest emitter tries to pivot away from coal. That’s more than 30% of the reactors being built globally, according to the World Nuclear Association.

And the debate is becoming more complex as new nuclear technologies are developed and show signs they could generate better financial returns.

The US government has backed TerraPower, the startup chaired by Bill Gates. The company, which wants to stand up a next-generation nuclear project at a former coal hub in Wyoming, utilizes molten salt to transfer heat from the reactor and use it to generate electricity, which it claims will simplify construction and allow it to adjust output to meet changing demand.

Meanwhile, Britain is supporting a push by engineering firm Rolls-Royce to build smaller nuclear reactors, which have lower upfront costs. That pitch could help draw in private investors.

Iida Ruishalme, the European director of Mothers for Nuclear, traveled to Berlin to show her support of nuclear power.
Iida Ruishalme, the European director of Mothers for Nuclear, traveled to Berlin to show her support of nuclear power.

“It’s very, very difficult for any country to achieve net-zero ambitions without nuclear,” said Tom Samson, the CEO of the new Rolls-Royce venture.

The parts of a Rolls-Royce reactor are designed so almost all of it can be built and assembled in a factory. That limits the amount of time that’s required to piece its components together on an expensive construction site. Initially, production is estimated at £2.2 billion ($2.9 billion) per unit.

“If you look back in history, you can find lots of examples of big nuclear projects that have struggled,” Samson said. “We’ve designed ours to be different.”

About £210 million ($278 million) in funding from the UK government will allow the company to begin applying for regulatory approvals. It hopes to set up three factories in Britain and start churning out about two units per year, which would power 2 million homes. The first unit is expected to go into service in the United Kingdom in 2031. 

For comparison, the Hinkley power station is expected to provide electricity for 6 million homes.

Samson also emphasizes that smaller reactors produce little waste. The spent fuel from a small modular reactor operating for 60 years would fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, he said.

Fission or fusion?

According to data from PitchBook, nuclear energy startups raised $676 million in venture capital funding globally in the first nine months of 2021. That’s more than the total amount raised over the past five years combined. 

That figure includes funding for startups that explore nuclear fusion, which has been attracting more attention. The nuclear power generators currently operating use fission technology, which involves splitting the nucleus of an atom. Fusion is the process of combining two nuclei to create energy — often referred to as the energy of the sun or the stars.

Scientists are still working out how to successfully manage a fusion reaction and turn it into a commercially viable project. But investors are increasingly excited about its potential since it doesn’t produce lingering radioactive waste and comes with no risk of a Fukushima-style meltdown, nor does it rely on uranium.

Helion, a US-based fusion startup, announced last month that it had raised $500 million in a round led by Sam Altman, the former president of Y Combinator.

As the world weighs which way to turn on nuclear, it could be years until it’s clear which was the right road to take. A look at Germany and France in 10 or 20 years from now may provide the answer.

Ultimately, arguments around emissions, reliability and economics may be cast aside. The real future of nuclear could come down to public opinion.

“If there is a nuclear accident, a new major one, that could kill the entire industry,” said Henning Gloystein, director of energy, climate and resources at Eurasia Group.

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Coal miners want Joe Manchin to reverse opposition to Build Back Better

Senator Joe Manchin is facing calls from a powerful group close to his heart to reconsider his opposition to the Build Back Better Act: Coal miners, CNN reports.

A day after the West Virginia Democrat appeared to kill Build Back Better, America’s largest coal mining union put out a statement lauding the legislation’s provisions and pushing Manchin to take a do-over. 

“We are disappointed that the bill will not pass,” Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, said in the statement on Monday. “We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families and their communities.” 

The 131-year-old UMWA called out several items that it believes are crucial to its members and communities, including extending the fee paid by coal companies to fund benefits received by victims of black lung. 

“But now that fee will be cut in half, further shifting the burden of paying these benefits away from the coal companies and on to taxpayers,” Roberts said. 

Another benefit in Build Back Better cited by the UMWA: tax incentives to encourage manufacturers to build facilities in coalfields, employing thousands of coal miners who are out of work.

“Now the potential for those jobs is significantly threatened,” Roberts said. 

Roberts also cited a provision in the legislation that would penalize employers that deny workers their rights to form a union on the job. 

The union said it has a “long and friendly relationship” with Manchin. 

“We remain grateful for his hard work to preserve the pensions and health care of our retirees across the nation, including thousands in West Virginia,” Roberts said. “He has been at our side as we have worked to preserve coal miners’ jobs in a changing energy marketplace and we appreciate that very much.

“Sam Runyon, Manchin’s communications director, said Tuesday that Manchin “has always been a strong advocate for the UMWA and led legislation to address the black lung excise tax expiration.”

“He will of course continue to work to shore up the black lung excise tax in the New Year to address the needs of our brave miners,” Runyon said.

Opposing Build Back Better

Manchin announced on Sunday his opposition to Build Back Better, citing concerns about the pandemic, inflation and geopolitical uncertainty. He also pointed to concerns about the legislation in his home state. 

“I have always said, ‘If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it,'” Manchin said. “Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation.” 

The coal miners union is also strongly pressuring Manchin to act on voting rights. 

“I also want to reiterate our support for the passage of voting rights legislation as soon as possible, and strongly encourage Senator Manchin and every other Senator to be prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish that,” Roberts, the union president, said in the statement. “Anti-democracy legislators and their allies are working every day to roll back the right to vote in America. Failure by the Senate to stand up to that is unacceptable and a dereliction of their duty to the Constitution.”

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Gasoline and natural gas prices are going down

Americans grappling with historic levels of inflation are finally getting some relief where they need it most: Previously-booming energy prices, CNN reports.

After a relentless rise, prices at the pump are heading south. The national average price for a gallon of regular gas fell to a seven-week low of $3.35 a gallon on Tuesday, according to AAA

The outlook for home heating costs this winter is also improving significantly. Natural gas futures have been nearly cut in half over the past two months. Natural gas plunged by more than 11% on Monday, its worst day in nearly three years.

Energy sticker shock has been one of the biggest drivers behind the 31-year high in inflation. Cooling energy prices, if they last, could take significant inflationary pressure off the US economy and inspire confidence among bummed out consumers.

“This is going to help consumers considerably,” Robert Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho Securities, said referring to the plunge in natural gas futures. 

Prices at the pump started leveling out as rumors swirled that the Biden administration would intervene in energy markets. 

By the time President Joe Biden announced on November 23 the biggest-ever release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as part of a coordinated release with other countries, oil prices were about 10% below their peak. That’s even though Biden’s decision to tap the SPR is viewed as more of a Band-Aid than a long-term solution. 

Gas prices, which move with a lag, started to drift lower soon after. Yes, prices at the pump are still at high levels. Regular gas is now fetching $3.35 a gallon, up from $2.16 a year ago. But they have finally stopped going straight up.

White House applauds lower prices

After months of criticism for high inflation, and high energy prices in particular, the White House is cheering the shift in direction. 

“We see price decreases at the pump as good news. This is at least in part due to the President’s actions – as we have taken bold action to increase supply and bring down prices,” a person familiar with the White House’s thinking told CNN on Tuesday. 

Biden expressed hope last week that gas prices would head lower. 

“These savings are beginning to reach Americans, and should pick up in the weeks ahead. And it can’t happen fast enough,” Biden said on Friday.

Of course, the US-led intervention in energy markets is only one part of this. 

The other part is more ominous: Oil prices took a big hit after the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant set off fears of weaker demand for gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. Crude collapsed on Black Friday by the most since April 2020. 

In recent days, oil prices have rebounded, along with the stock market, as Wall Street reacts to anecdotal evidence that suggests Omicron symptoms have been mild. 

Natural gas collapses

Meanwhile, natural gas remains sharply higher on the year — but has cooled off considerably in recent weeks. 

In early October, as fears of a European-style shortage swirled, natural gas hit $6.47 per million British thermal units. That was the highest level since February 2014.

But that rally has completely reversed. Natural gas fell 11.5% on Monday, its worst day since January 2019, to $3.66 per million BTU. That’s the lowest level since July 15.

Natural gas has been driven lower in part by the fact that temperatures across the United States have been warmer than usual. That has eased demand for natural gas, the most common way to heat homes. 

“The warmer-than-normal start to winter has alleviated concerns,” said Christopher Louney, vice president of global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets. 

Overdone shortage fears

The warmer temperatures have also helped boost inventories of natural gas, reducing fears that storage levels could drop to alarmingly low levels. 

“The US isn’t going to run out of natural gas. There is ample supply,” said Rob Thummel, senior portfolio manager at energy investment firm TortoiseEcofin. “We could weather quite an extreme cold snap and still have adequate supplies.”

Shortage fears on the natural gas front were overdone, especially considering the United States is the largest producer of gas on the planet. And natural gas production has ticked higher, helping to lower prices further. 

“We are seeing the response of an efficient natural gas market to prices that were perceived as inordinately high,” the American Gas Association, an industry trade group, told CNN in a statement. 

Unlike Europe, the United States produces enough natural gas at home that it is able to export significant amounts everyday overseas in the form of LNG, or liquefied natural gas. 

If anything, the natural gas market has gone from worry about a shortage to fretting about too much supply. 

Futures market spreads are “warning that we are spiraling towards a glut. It’s a big problem,” said Mizuho’s Yawger.

Of course, it’s too early for the all-clear signal on the home heating front. Winter hasn’t even officially begun yet and very cold temperatures in the coming weeks and months could spark a rebound in natural gas futures. 

But for the moment, the energy market is offering glimmers of hope for inflation-weary American families. 

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Google promise to develop Africa ‘s digital ecosystem

Africa has the lowest rate of internet connectivity of any region in the world. But that also means it has the highest potential for new growth, CNN reports.

During the pandemic in 2020, nearly 20 million more Africans subscribed to a mobile service than in the previous year, according to industry trade group Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), with 4G connections set to double over the next four years.

Tech giants such as Google – which expects hundreds of millions more people to come online across the continent for the first time in the next few years – are moving quickly in the race for Africa’s digital inclusion.

Last year, Google’s joint report with the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation forecasted Africa’s “e-conomy” value would reach $180 billion by 2025.

This has arguably fueled the company’s commitment of a $1 billion investment in Africa, announced last month – focusing on grants for businesses, supporting entrepreneurship and a significant infrastructure plan to broaden internet access across the continent.

After the announcement, CNN’s Larry Madowo spoke to Nitin Gajria, Google’s managing director for sub-Saharan Africa, about the company’s plan to improve internet connectivity in Africa and support the continent’s digital transformation.

Larry Madowo: Google has made a big deal of investing in the digital landscape in Africa. What regions or specific sectors are you most excited about investing in?

Nitin Gajria: We were thrilled to have announced our $1 billion commitment over the next five years on the continent. These are really mainly in three areas: first, our initiatives related to connectivity, and how do we bring the power of the internet into more hands. The second part of it is how do we help entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed with the internet. And the third part of this commitment is a renewal of our non-profit partnerships on the continent.

We’ve just announced a $50 million Africa investment fund aimed at the growth state startups. That’s one of the things I’m really excited about, our initiatives related to the startup ecosystem on the continent.

LM: How is Google approaching some of the infrastructure challenges that are famous on the continent and the opportunities to build from the ground up?

NG: A few years ago, we would’ve been sitting here talking about how network coverage is a massive challenge. And I think that some of those challenges are being solved. The thing that I think about is the number of internet users that we’re going to have on the continent in the next three to five years. And how do we have the capacity to serve those users in an effective fashion with the right kind of speeds, with the right kind of bandwidth and so on.

And one of the things is “Equiano,” a subsea cable that we are building along the west coast of Africa which links Europe to Africa. We’ve already announced landing points in Nigeria, in Namibia and in South Africa. This type of capacity that Equiano is going to bring in will have a profound effect on internet speeds, on data costs and just the overall internet experience in the places that impacts.

LM: Can you talk about the role of smartphones in making sure that this is a mobile-first continent and how Google approaches that?

NG: When you look at the profile of new internet users, they tend to use the internet for very different purposes than the first billion people that got onto the internet. As an example, one really profound and interesting shift is somebody that’s never used a keyboard on a laptop or a computer ever before, and for them to encounter a QWERTY keyboard that you normally have in your phone is a really strange experience; which then sort of raises really interesting questions about how do we create an internet that one can interact with through voice or products that can work in local languages. These are the kinds of challenges that I think we need to be very aware of as the next billion people get online.

LM: We like to say in Africa that we’re not a monolith. Talk about what talent you see coming out of the continent versus the rest of the world.

NG: We know that there are going to be more young people in Africa for the foreseeable future than anywhere else in the world. And that just means that you have a base of talent that can go on to build amazing things in Africa. We also see a small but growing and thriving developer population. I do believe that developers are an essential ingredient in any vibrant internet ecosystem. We do see an opportunity and some headroom in terms of growth for developer talent.

LM: As the guy running Google in sub-Saharan Africa, what keeps you up at night?

NG: One is connectivity. Some of the most profound challenges yet the most exciting opportunities on the continent is we have 1.1 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa, (but) only about 300 million people are using the internet in any way, shape or form. So, there’s about 800 million people that have never experienced the power of the internet — how do we bridge that gap? We expect 300 million people to come online over the next five years and after that we expect a lot more. 

I’m really excited about the work that various players in the ecosystem are doing. And that’s just talking about the subsea cables that are being built to serve Africa. But there’s also a ton of work being done inland from an infrastructure perspective, whether it’s by the Telco’s or other infrastructure providers and all of this collectively will hopefully go on to solve some of the connectivity challenges that we have on the continent.

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What TV news green activists should watch?

When environmental activists, government officials and corporate leaders descend on Glasgow for COP26, there will be plenty of articles, videos and books floating around that extol the virtues of being green. One piece of content unlikely to be circling much is Blown Away: The People Vs Wind Power, a documentary currently airing on Fox News in the US. But Glasgow attendees would do well to watch it, FT reports.

The film features Tucker Carlson, the genial-looking TV host with a dyspeptic streak who underwent a conversion from bow-tie-wearing prep into rightwing barker in the Trump era. In the 26-minute film, he travels across the country to “expose the hidden costs of the green energy agenda”. What he seems most angry about is the “death and destruction brought on by these monstrosities” known as wind turbines.

Never mind the fact that most Glasgow attendees view wind power as such a self-evidently wonderful thing that turbine photos plaster the COP26 programme. Carlson thinks that wind farms threaten the livelihood of fishermen (because turbines are being built offshore), harm pristine forests and jeopardise the safety of ordinary US workers, since they can sometimes fail and cause a power cut.

“This is about enrich[ing] the most powerful people in the country at the expense of the most vulnerable — it’s exploitation of the weak by the powerful,” says Carlson. “It’s foreign companies that will make a fortune.” More specifically, he hates the fact that companies from Spain, Norway and Denmark are running the turbines and that financiers such as Warren Buffett and banks including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are involved.

If you’re in Glasgow, you’re no doubt rolling your eyes by now or perhaps correctly retorting that, say, a coal mine does more damage than any Scandinavian turbine. But even if you disagree with Carlson’s attacks, it would be a mistake to ignore him for at least three reasons.

First, and most obviously, we live in an era when political tribes are losing the ability to empathise with others and when it is dangerously easy for anyone, particularly activists, to slip into groupthink. Not only has lockdown kept us trapped with our own social groups for a long period, but as we have dashed online we have tended to intensify our tribal affiliations. Technology, after all, makes it so easy to customise our identities and confirm our biases.

As a result, I suspect few Glasgow attendees even know that Carlson is so angry about wind turbines, or are likely to see clips of his diatribes in their social media feeds. Even though the show he fronts, Tucker Carlson Tonight, is the highest-rated on American cable TV, with 3.42 million nightly viewers.

Second, even if you dislike Carlson’s overall stance, there are grains of truth in some of what he says. Take his charge about elitism. 

As Blown Away reports, one feature of wind farms is that they tend to be located in remote, rural areas or places subject to what wind engineers call the “Starbucks Rules”. As one explains on camera, “Never try to site a wind project within 30 miles of a Starbucks . . . because the demographic that is willing to pay a premium price for Starbucks coffee has the education and wherewithal to organise to resist wind projects.” Nimby-ism — Not In My Back Yard — predominates.

This was recently on display in the Hamptons, the wealthy enclave near New York, when a wind farm company proposed running a cable through one beach town. Such was the local outcry that the project was shelved. This is far from the only inequitable issue haunting green policies. If gas prices rise because of a carbon tax, it is poor — not elite — voters who suffer relatively more. If coal mines are shut down, it will not be urban voters who lose their jobs.

Green activists ignore this at their peril; without government action to offset these effects, we will see more episodes like the gilets jaunes demonstrations against fuel-price hikes that erupted in Paris a few years ago. And more angry Fox News coverage.

Which leads to my third point: cultural issues and affiliations matter. Covid-19 showed us you cannot beat a pandemic with medical and computing science alone. You need to shift behaviour too. The same applies to green policies. People who fear that wind turbines are destroying their livelihoods — or who define their political identity by watching Fox — will not listen to lectures by scientists. Behaviour will only change if “green” issues are presented to different communities with empathy and respect — and proper incentives.

This will not be easy. Last week, the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team published a research paper urging ministers to use social science insights to “nudge” people to be green. However, it was withdrawn from the government’s website a few hours later.

Yet, even if the gulf between Fox News and the COP26 crowd seems hopelessly wide, neither can afford to simply dismiss or deride the other. Think of that when you see glossy photos of turbines in Glasgow; Carlson’s resistance isn’t entirely hot air.

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Queen Elizabeth calls attention on lack of action on climate change

Queen Elizabeth II has said the lack of action on tackling the climate crisis is «irritating», CNN reports.

The British monarch made the remarks on Thursday during a conversation at the opening of the Welsh Parliament in Cardiff.

The Queen was chatting with the Duchess of Cornwall and Elin Jones, the parliament’s presiding officer, when her remarks were captured on video.

At one point, the Queen appears to be talking about the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, saying: “I’ve been hearing all about COP … I still don’t know who’s coming.” 

In a separate clip, the Queen appears to say it is “irritating” when “they talk, but they don’t do.” Parts of the two clips were inaudible.

In her reply, Jones appears to reference Prince William’s remarks from earlier Thursday, saying she had been watching him “on television this morning saying there’s no point going into space, we need to save the earth,” the PA Media news agency reported.

The Duke of Cambridge spoke about the ongoing rush for space travel in an interview with the BBC’s Newscast podcast, which aired on Thursday.

“We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live,” he said.

His comments aired the day after “Star Trek” actor William Shatner, 90, made history by becoming the oldest person to go to space aboard a New Shepard spacecraft, developed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

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Biodiversity loss and climate change are similar to each other and should be talked together

Biodiversity loss has been eclipsed by climate change on the global agenda but the two issues are closely linked, have similar impacts on human welfare and need to be tackled urgently, together, scientists said on Thursday, Reuters informs.

The destruction of forests and other ecosystems undermines nature’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and protect against extreme weather impacts – accelerating climate change and increasing vulnerability to it, a report by the U.N. agencies on climate change and biodiversity said.

The rapid vanishing of carbon-trapping mangroves and seagrasses, for example, both prevents carbon storage and exposes coastlines to storm surges and erosion.

The report calls for governments to enact policies and nature-based solutions to address both issues.

“For far too long, policymakers tended to see climate change and biodiversity loss as separate issues, so policy responses have been siloed,” said report co-author Pamela McElwee, an ecologist at Rutgers University, told a virtual news conference.

“Climate has simply gotten more attention because people are increasingly feeling it in their own lives – whether it’s wildfires or hurricane risk. Our report points out that biodiversity loss has that similar effect on human wellbeing.”

The report marks the first collaboration of scientists from both the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Calling on countries to protect entire ecosystems rather than iconic locations or species, the report’s authors hope to influence policy discussions at both the U.N. conference on biodiversity in October in Kunming, China, and at the U.N. climate talks being held a month later in Glasgow, Scotland.

“The report will connect the two COPs (summits) in terms of thinking,” said Hans Poertner, IPCC co-chair.

Ahead of the Kunming conference, the U.N. has urged countries to commit to protecting 30% of their land and sea territories by 2030. Experts say at least 30% of the Earth, if not 50%, should be under conservation to maintain habitats under a changing climate.

So far more than 50 countries, including the United States, have made the 30% pledge.

“With this report, the two issues are married now, which is really powerful,” said James Hardcastle, a conservationist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “We can use the momentum to get more commitments from countries on conservation.”

Since 2010, countries have collectively managed to add almost 21 million square kilometers – an area the size of Russia – to the global network of protected lands, bringing the current total to nearly 17% of the Earth’s landmass, according to a report published last month by the IUCN.

Yet less than 8% of these lands are connected – something considered crucial for ecological processes and the safe movement of wildlife. Meanwhile, total marine conservation areas lag at 7%, below the 2020 target of 10%.

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Investors managing $41 trillion issued are calling world leaders to stop their climate game

A group of 79 company bosses and investors managing $41 trillion issued separate calls on Thursday for world leaders to accelerate action on climate change by enacting more ambitious policies in areas including carbon pricing, Reuters informs.

In an open letter to all governments as leaders of the G7 group of industrialised nations meet in Britain, and ahead of a global climate summit in November, the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders called for “bold action” now to meet future emissions targets.

To force corporate action, governments needed to change the rules of the game, they said, including by developing a market-based carbon pricing mechanism.

Countries should also force all businesses to establish “credible” decarbonisation targets, plus disclose emissions across all parts of their business, said the CEOs who include Swiss Re’s Christian Mumenthaler, Boston Consulting Group’s Rich Lesser and Royal DSM’s Feike Sijbesma.

The bosses also backed an elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, cuts on tariffs for climate-friendly goods, a boost in research and development funding for green technologies.

A separate statement backed by 457 investors warned governments that those countries to take the lead would become “increasingly attractive” investment destinations, while laggards would find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Key to that was for countries to commit to tougher emissions reduction cuts by 2030 and implement the domestic policies necessary to become net zero by 2050, added the investors, who include the likes of New York State, Fidelity International and Legal & General Investment Management.

“Strong policies, in line with limiting global warming to no more than 1.5-degrees Celsius, can accelerate and scale up private capital flows towards the net-zero transition,” said the 2021 Global Investor Statement to Governments on the Climate Crisis.

Founded in 2014 and hosted by the World Economic Forum, the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders aims to help drive the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Ahead of the COP26 climate summit on Glasgow, governments need to publish plans to halve emissions by 2030, commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 and put in place “robust” policy roadmaps and interim targets, the CEOs said.

Developed countries also needed to exceed their $100 billion commitment to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, and ensure development finance bodies commit to science-based targets across their lending portfolios.

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