The Impossibility of Vacation: Signal on the Beach

The Impossibility of Vacation: Signal on the Beach

As you can see, your average Signalista has a tough time unplugging from the world of global politics, even on vacation. Even on the beach. Here’s a little window into what it’s like… a prose poem by yours truly and Willis Sparks.


 

You’re on the beach. The sun blazes in a cloudless sky. Seagulls glide silently overhead. The soothing rush of the waves lulls you into a moment’s peace as you gaze at the water.. The level of the water. How much will it rise because of global warming in the coming decades. Three meters? Four? The fragmenting of the Paris Accords will definitely make it worse.

Well, in the long run we’re all dead anyway. Wasn’t that Keynes? For now this will be a perfect day. August is the best…. A lot of world leaders probably hate August. The 1991 Soviet coup against Gorbachev happened in August. So did the ruble crisis seven years later, a national humiliation that helped lay the groundwork for a strongman like Putin to take charge.  Nixon resigned in August 1974. I wonder what Robert Mueller is doing today. He’s probably wearing a tie..

The sky! That pristine blue dome. Above that blue are 1,700 satellites, used for navigation, military applications, and communications. The Chinese and Russians have developed technologies to shoot them down. President Trump is mulling a new Space Force to deal with it, though the Pentagon isn’t on board yet...

Good thing this beach isn’t so crowded. Bondi beach in Australia is crowded. Too crowded. That country’s population surge (it’ll reach 25m people three decades earlier than expected) is straining cities, clogging up beach access, and fomenting a backlash against immigration that could really roil politics there…

Pebble beach or sand beach? The age old question. China’s leaders are at the beach too. Every August, they spend two weeks privately plotting strategy at a beach resort called Beidaihe. It looks nice in the photos. Sand, it looks like. Wonder what they’re talking about today…. A face-saving compromise with Trump? How to keep North Korea on track? It’s hot. Maybe a dip in the water would be nice…

What beautiful water… What the… is that a garbage bag? That could kill a seagull! There’s a four-in-five chance that this bag  is from Asia, you know. That rapidly growing Asian middle class is buying more stuff and throwing out more trash than ever. The logistical and political hurdles to dealing with that problem are … what’s that smell? Is that… those kids are smoking weed! Are they vaping or is it a joint? What was that report about how Lebanon could bring in an extra $500m in export revenues if it legalized cannabis…

It really is hot out here. I’m thirsty. Water is important. Hope India never tries to use its upstream control of so much of Pakistan’s water supplies for political purposes. Kaboom. Wonder what’s happening in Egypt’s dispute with Sudan and Ethiopia over Nile water resources. Maybe it’s time for lunch. . .

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

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Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Can "the Quad" constrain China?

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