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Global Garbage Time

Global Garbage Time

For several months now, residents of half a dozen towns near Moscow have been protesting against the local government, and the reason is total garbage. Literally. Toxic fumes from local landfills have sent dozens to the hospital and hundreds into the streets. In a country where nearly 90 percent of people say they’d never protest anything, that’s a big deal. But it reflects a broader global trend: global politics is littered with trash these days.


Countries as far afield as Colombia, India, Ghana, the Kurdish Regional Government, and Italy have all recently seen protest or political intrigue about whether the garbage is being picked up and/or where it’s being dropped off. In Lebanon, a trash crisis back in 2015 even gave rise to a national opposition movement called “You Stink” which is looking to shape upcoming legislative elections.

Trash is, in a sense, inherently political. Removing a society’s waste is a basic public service and uncollected trash is an immediate visual — and olfactory — signal that the social contract either doesn’t exist or has broken down. When piles of uncollected trash stifled Naples in 2008 , the Neapolitan novelist Elena Ferrante wrote that it had exposed “the precariousness of every sort of order.”

Setting and preserving that order is only going to get harder in the coming years as poor and developing countries continue to grow. Greater prosperity, urbanization, and consumption all mean more trash as well. The UN says low income cities in Africa and Asia will produce twice as much waste in the next two decades as they do now. Latin America’s trash output is set to rise 60% over the same period.

This puts governments — particularly local ones in emerging economies — in a tough spot: increased prosperity simultaneously generates more waste while also fomenting broader expectations about governments’ ability to perform basic services like waste collection. Globally speaking, it’s garbage time for governments.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Listen: The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, joins Ian Bremmer to talk vaccines, school re-openings, and when—and how—the pandemic could finally come end. He was last on GZERO World just weeks before the pandemic hit in the fall of 2019 and he described at the time what kept him up at night: a "pandemic-like respiratory illness." This time, he talks about how closely that nightmare scenario foreshadowed the COVID-19 pandemic. He also offers some guidance about what public health measures vaccinated Americans should continue to take in the coming months (hint: masks stay on).

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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