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1. Emissions from global electricity generation may have peaked in 2022 and are expected to start declining in the coming years, in a sign the power sector could have reached a tipping point in its transition to clean power. Electricity emissions grew by 1.3 per cent last year to hit a record high, fuelled by a small increase in coal use to meet growing electricity demand after the end of the Covid-19 lockdowns. But 2022 will probably be the last year the global power sector will log such a growth in emissions, according to the energy think tank Ember, which claims the sector has hit an historic turning point in the shift to clean sources of power. The Ember report is here. (Sources: newscientist.com, ember-climate.org)
2. The Biden administration today will propose the nation’s most ambitious climate regulations to date, two plans designed to ensure two-thirds of new passenger cars and a quarter of new heavy trucks sold in the United States are all-electric by 2032. If the two rules are enacted as proposed, they would put the world’s largest economy on track to slash its planet-warming emissions at the pace that scientists say is required of all nations in order to avert the most devastating impacts of climate change. The new rules would require nothing short of a revolution in the U.S. auto industry. Last year, all-electric vehicles were just 5.8 percent of new car sales in the United States and fewer than 2 percent of new heavy trucks sold. (Source: nytimes.com)
3. Science magazine:
Unlike fast-shrinking Arctic sea ice, the sea ice ringing Antarctica seemed more resistant to climate change—until recently. But now a long-term decline may have set in, and it could have unexpected and ominous domino effects, according to several recent studies. Dwindling sea ice could strengthen a whirling current called the Ross Gyre, bringing warm waters closer to land and hastening the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which locks up enough water to raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters. The warmer water and glacial melt expected from a stronger gyre already show hints of slowing part of the global ocean’s overturning circulation, a critical “conveyor belt” of currents that distributes heat and removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “These are pretty grim predictions,” Larter says. “There are a lot of bad consequences if we really are on a downward sea ice trend.” (Source: science.org)
4. Could the next pandemic hit global food supplies? Scientists warn that a fungal pathogen that threatens wheat production in South America is poised to go global. Outbreaks of the ‘wheat blast’ pathogen Magnaporthe oryzae in parts of Africa and Asia originated from a single family of the fungus that was imported from South America, researchers report on 11 April in PLoS Biology. Scientists warn that this lineage could strike elsewhere, or develop worrying traits such as fungicide resistance and the ability to affect other important food crops. “This is a very serious disease; it threatens wheat cultivation in some of the poorest parts of the world,” study co-author Nick Talbot, a plant pathologist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK, said at a press briefing. “It also has the capacity to spread throughout the world.” (Source: nature.com)
5. Two months after declaring victory over Covid-19, Beijing is trying to shape the way the pandemic is remembered in China by withholding data on its impact and censoring people who contradict the government line that its handling of the virus was a triumph. One of the biggest questions—how many people died—remains unanswered, with the government restricting access to records that could help shed light on the issue. Official reports on the number of bodies cremated, normally released quarterly, disappeared or haven’t been updated on schedule in more than 30 provinces, cities or districts, a Wall Street Journal review found. One city erased records going back to the beginning of 2020, the Journal found. Etc. (Source: wsj.com)
6. Russia risks becoming an “economic colony” of China as its isolation from the West deepens after the invasion of Ukraine, CIA Director William Burns said on Tuesday. “Russia is becoming more and more dependent on China and, in some respects, runs the risk of becoming an economic colony of China over time, dependent for export of energy resources and raw materials,” Burns said at an event at Rice University in Houston. (Source: theguardian.com)
7. China and Russia are in advanced secret talks with Iran to replenish the Islamic Republic’s supply of a key chemical compound used to propel ballistic missiles, diplomats familiar with the matter say, a move that would mark a clear violation of United Nations sanctions and possibly help Moscow replenish its depleted stock of rockets. Tehran has held concurrent negotiations with officials and government-controlled entities from both countries, including the state-owned Russian chemical maker FKP Anozit, to acquire large amounts of ammonium perchlorate, or AP, the main ingredient in solid propellants used to power missiles, said the diplomats, who requested anonymity in order to discuss confidential information. (Source: politico.eu)
8. The United States no longer has the capacity to quickly produce needed wartime assets, like 155 mm artillery shells, or to repair vital sophisticated systems, like radar, rapidly in theater, a panel of expert logisticians said last week. Weapon systems like artillery and radar cannot be produced and shipped in a quick timeline, said Justin Woulfe, Systecon’s chief technology officer, during the Navy League’s Sea Air Space 2023 symposium. The war in Ukraine dramatically underlined the capacity problem the United States faces in sustaining combat operations at sea, on land and in the air in a contested environment. The logistics situation will only get worse, Woulfe said. (Source: news.usni.org)
9. China is negotiating a compromise plan with other major creditors that could help break a logjam in multibillion-dollar debt-relief talks for struggling developing nations, people familiar with the talks said. Beijing has been pushing for multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to join it in taking losses in any debt-restructuring deals, these people said. They said the new plan, if agreed, could see China drop this demand in return for big multilateral lenders and regional partners such as the Asian Development Bank and African Development Bank making more explicit commitments to provide fresh low-cost financing, including grants, to countries whose debt is being restructured. It could help break an impasse that has held up an agreement by China and other government creditors to restructure the debts of Zambia and serve as a model for multibillion-dollar debt-relief deals for other developing countries in financial distress, the people said. (Source: wsj.com)
10. Office leasing in Beijing plunged 21% in the first quarter from the fourth, according to real estate service provider CBRE Group Inc., signaling businesses’ reluctance to expand in a shaky post-pandemic economy. The data reflect newly leased areas in prime office buildings. The number of deals signed to expand office space rental in Grade A office buildings in Beijing dropped 6% during the first three months from the last three months of 2022. The average expansion area of office rental decreased from 1,700 square meters to 1,400 square meters on a quarter-to-quarter basis, data from CBRE showed. The vacancy rate for grade A office buildings in Beijing reached a record high of 16.8% in the first quarter, up 0.5% from the previous quarter and 1.5% higher than a year earlier, according to British property service firm Savills plc. (Source: caixinglobal.com)
11. Taiwan's ruling party has nominated Vice President William Lai Ching-te as its presidential candidate, paving the way for a heated campaign for next January's election. The party's Central Executive Committee on Monday announced that Lai will represent the party in the poll to select the successor to President Tsai Ing-wen, who will step down after eight years in office in May next year. The election campaign comes amid increasing pressure from China. Beijing on Monday wrapped up military drills around Taiwan in response to Tsai's meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. A win for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party would make it the first party to have a president for more than two terms since democratic elections for the presidency were introduced in 1996. (Source: asia.nikkei.com)
12. Japan's population shrank by 556,000 in 2022 from a year earlier to 124.9 million for the 12th straight year of decrease, as the number of Japanese nationals saw its largest drop on record, government data showed Wednesday. As of Oct. 1, the population, including foreign residents, stood at 124,947,000, with the number of Japanese nationals down 750,000 to 122,031,000, the largest margin of decline since comparable data were made available in 1950, the data said. The trend indicates an urgent need for Japan to establish a social system to cope with the dual challenge of a declining birthrate and a graying population. All of Japan's 47 prefectures except Tokyo posted a fall in the number of residents in the year to October last year, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. (Source: asia.nikkei.com)
13. Between higher costs and a possible recession on the horizon, families feel increasingly strained financially. More than half, or 58%, of all Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck, according to the CNBC Your Money Financial Confidence Survey, conducted in partnership with Momentive. And even more — roughly 70% — said they feel stressed about their finances, mostly due to inflation, economic uncertainty and rising interest rates, the survey found. “Whether or not you have significant wealth, everyone is feeling squeezed,” said Misi Simms, portfolio manager at TIAA, a Fortune 100 financial services company. (Source: cnbc.com)
14. Mary Williams Walsh:
Many countries (and U.S. states) have some version of a pension problem. At almost any given time, somewhere in the world, you can find elected leaders trying to shore up a weak pension system, whether by raising the retirement age, or calling in more contributions, or offering bonuses to those who defer retirement—or maybe they’re rolling back previous “reforms” that didn’t work out.
What you don’t often see are the residents of an advanced industrial society thronging the streets, torching city halls, smashing bank facades, hurling dead rats, belting out La Marseillaise, even scaring away the king of England, all because they don’t want to work until they’re 64.
In the United States, we’ve been hearing for years that it will be easier to fix Social Security if we start early. Now the French are showing what that means. (Source: politicalitems.substack.com; Subscribe here.)
15. For decades, in China, middle age has been when many start to get ready for retirement. China has one of the lowest retirement ages among major economies. Under a policy unchanged since the 1950s, it allows women to retire as early as at age 50 and men at 60. Now, local governments are running out of money just as a wave of retirees hits. That is leaving Beijing with little choice but to ask people to work longer—a move economists say is long overdue but one still likely to meet with resistance. China’s version of “baby boomers”—those born after China emerged from devastating starvation in the early 1960s—are retiring in droves. Even with government subsidies, by 2035 China’s state-led urban pension fund will run out of money accumulated over the previous two decades, leaving it to rely entirely on new workers’ contributions, according to projections made in 2019 by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank. Former central bank Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan warned in a February speech that China must address its pension shortfall and communicate that many Chinese may need to rely on private pension savings. (Source: wsj.com)
16. In a new book, two MIT economists show that automation — perhaps the most important technological advance since the industrial era — isn’t about increasing labour productivity but rather replacing it. Automation doesn’t necessarily reduce wages if there are incentives or requirements (on the part of unions or government) that force the retraining of displaced workers and the creation of new jobs for them. But this isn’t always the case. If new jobs and tasks aren’t actively created, then automation can end up decreasing jobs and wages, even as it increases productivity and returns to capital. This is, of course, largely where we have been over the last several decades, as the economic pressures on managers to hoard capital and treat workers as a cost rather than an asset on the balance sheet have grown. (Source: ft.com)
We don't regard the dollar price of bitcoin as indicative of anything. This is a hugely volatile asset. We do, however, see huge potential in the blockchain technology for financial transactions in the future. We keep an open mind on its potential to replace fiat money. What fiat money and cryptocurrencies have in common is that they are both backed by fairy dust. Fiat money is a social contract. Its survival will depend entirely on whether people will continue to trust it. There are clear and present scenarios, right now, that tell us that this might not be the case forever. People will then be using something else, whatever that something will be. We doubt very much that it will be bitcoin. But we think that whatever it is, it will be based on the blockchain technology. (Source: eurointelligence.com)
18. After months of fruitless negotiations between the states that depend on the shrinking Colorado River, the Biden administration on Tuesday proposed to put aside legal precedent and save what’s left of the river by evenly cutting water allotments, reducing the water delivered to California, Arizona and Nevada by as much as one-quarter. The size of those reductions and the prospect of the federal government unilaterally imposing them on states have never occurred in American history. Overuse and a 23-year-long drought made worse by climate change have threatened to provoke a water and power catastrophe across the West. The Colorado River supplies drinking water to 40 million Americans as well as two states in Mexico, and irrigates 5.5 million agricultural acres. The electricity generated by dams on the river’s two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, powers millions of homes and businesses. But the river’s flows have recently fallen by one-third compared with historical averages. (Source: nytimes.com)
19. The nutria, an invasive species native to South America, is wreaking havoc in U.S. It’s the stuff of bad dreams. Giant rodents with Cheetos-orange teeth are swarming through the coastal U.S., damaging almond trees, golf courses and even the occasional bridge. The nutria, a semiaquatic mammal native to South America, was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800s for the fur trade. After escaping captivity, the critters, which can weigh over 20 pounds and breed year-round, proved hard to corral again. In Texas, nutria are on a “most unwanted” list. In Oregon, there’s a year-round open season on them. California is hoping the invasive species will start to rat on itself. (Source: wsj.com)
20. Stanford/Google researchers have used Generative AI to simulate believable human behavior in a simulated world:
In this paper, we introduce generative agents--computational software agents that simulate believable human behavior. Generative agents wake up, cook breakfast, and head to work; artists paint, while authors write; they form opinions, notice each other, and initiate conversations; they remember and reflect on days past as they plan the next day. To enable generative agents, we describe an architecture that extends a large language model to store a complete record of the agent's experiences using natural language, synthesize those memories over time into higher-level reflections, and retrieve them dynamically to plan behavior. We instantiate generative agents to populate an interactive sandbox environment inspired by The Sims, where end users can interact with a small town of twenty five agents using natural language. In an evaluation, these generative agents produce believable individual and emergent social behaviors: for example, starting with only a single user-specified notion that one agent wants to throw a Valentine's Day party, the agents autonomously spread invitations to the party over the next two days, make new acquaintances, ask each other out on dates to the party, and coordinate to show up for the party together at the right time. We demonstrate through ablation that the components of our agent architecture--observation, planning, and reflection--each contribute critically to the believability of agent behavior. By fusing large language models with computational, interactive agents, this work introduces architectural and interaction patterns for enabling believable simulations of human behavior. (Sources: nextbigfuture.com, arxiv.org)
Quick Links: Caught between America, China and Russia, many countries are determined not to pick sides. ChatGPT is entering a world of regulatory pain in Europe. How Big Pharma games the system — and keeps drugs prices high. If true, this is a huge story: ActBlue accused of massive, multi-state campaign money-laundering scheme. From last week: Dem fundraising giant ActBlue lays off 17 percent of workforce. Ron DeSantis latches onto a winning issue. Trump lead over DeSantis grows. Trump’s (not really) hidden advantage in the GOP primaries. Court in Pakistan-held Kashmir removes Imran Khan's protégé. A conservative religious movement, spread through social media, has taken hold among Indonesian youth. Over 1 million girls barred from Afghanistan schools as rules sap economy. The Palestinian Authority is being eclipsed by radical militants. We’ll see if this is true: Turkey’s heartland voters tire of Erdoğan. Ganesh: Starmer’s war on the left is unfinished. How Bono helped bring peace to Northern Ireland. Judge chides Fox News over Dominion claim of ‘missing’ Murdoch documents. The most important news of all: India-Pakistan spat threatens Cricket World Cup.
Science/Technology Links: Chinese woman dies of H3N8, marking first known human fatality from bird flu strain. An unhackable quantum internet is being built in New York City. Three ways to solve the plastics pollution crisis. Groundbreaking mRNA therapy appears to prevent and treat peanut allergies in mice. In coming years, your new artificial joints will tell the doctor how they’re doing. There could be millions of abandoned wells in the U.S. Plugging them is a monumental task. Scientists uncover the amazing way sandgrouse hold water in their feathers.
War: China seeks to gain full control of Taiwan through three distinct but interrelated campaigns: forceful persuasion, coercion, and compellence. China makes rare backtrack over no-fly zone near Taiwan. Russia moves to tighten conscription law, pressing more men to fight. An amazing fact: In early March, Ukraine’s power grid was able to produce surplus energy. Serbia denies supplying arms to Ukraine. Military forces from Armenia and Azerbaijan clashed along their border yesterday and at least seven soldiers were killed. No doubt the infidels are responsible: A new spate of suspected poisonous-gas attacks has hit Iranian girls schools in several towns and cities this week. How AI will revolutionize warfare.