At the COP21 conference near Paris, the world is grappling with a problem it’s so far come nowhere near solving: how to ensure a future that keeps the planet’s climate livable. One week in, there are reasons to be very worried—and some hopeful notes.
The talks have rolled over huge potholes on the road to change. Coal power plants are still being built apace. Big sources of emissions, like the meat industry, are absent from negotiations. Climate-change skeptics are finding sneaky new ways to derail progress.
Paris marks the first time all countries—not just developed ones—have been truly involved in the emission-cutting process. That’s thrown up the problem of fairness: in order to grow their economies, countries like India plan to use vastly more energy in coming years. That means more emissions—but why should they limit the prospects of their people to balance rich nations’ carbon debt?
The hopeful counter is that rich countries have spent some of their wealth developing alternative technologies. They’ll have to use that knowledge and expertise for the common good, helping finance others’ growth through cleaner technology.
Things still look deeply gloomy for many. Kiribati, a low-lying island nation in the central Pacific, faces the need to relocate 100,000 people, as rising sea levels flood homes and contaminate water. Some say it’s already too late to prevent the people of such states becoming “climate refugees.”
International meetings on emissions have a patchy record. But things are being done better this time. Nations submitted their plans ahead of the conference, rather than at it. The meeting is more effectively organized; leaders made a diplomatic show at the start rather turning up at the end to broker last-ditch deals. Will it be enough? In one more week, we might know.—Cassie Werber
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
How Disney built up excitement for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In this gloriously geeky interactive, David Yanofsky, Adam Freelander, and Mike Murphy isolate every single shot in every single one of the dozen trailers for the upcoming movie, to analyze how images were introduced and repeated to generate anticipation.
Japan’s dementia crisis and its lessons for the world. One in 17 Japanese citizens will have dementia by 2017. Steve Mollman explains how Japan plans to cope—in a foretaste of what all developed countries will have to grapple with in the coming years.
Understanding ISIL’s origins. Emma-Kate Symons talks to the Islam scholar who argues that radical jihadism is the product mainly of a generational divide among Muslims, not colonialist history or the clash of civilizations. And Tim Fernholz debunks the views of Thomas Piketty and others who think poverty in the Middle East is to blame.
The internet-connected things that really shouldn’t be. Device manufacturers are falling over themselves to make every single product part of the “internet of things.” Enough, says Mike Murphy, with this list of actual devices you can buy—from pepper spray to crockpots to bicycle tires—that really have no business being online.
The fashion that adapts as we age. Lila Maclellan interviews designers who make clothing for people with physical disabilities—skirts and jeans that don’t look frumpy in a wheelchair, sweaters that are easy to get into and out of. And as today’s style-conscious adults get older, she notes, these could be the designs most of us end up wearing.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
The koalas in the coal mine. “The koala is Australia’s polar bear, its tree an ice floe.” It’s not a protected species, but in recent years some koala populations have suffered wipeouts. Todd Woody goes into the bush to explore how a combination of climate change and coal mining are threatening Australia’s mascot.
The antibiotic alchemist. Drug-resistant bacteria are a growing scourge. The best source of new antibiotics that could kill them are, ironically other bacteria. But more than 99% of bacterial species can’t be grown in the lab. In Stat News, Carl Zimmer found a Russian refugee scientist who may have a radically simple solution.
Remember the CEO who raised the minimum wage of his staff to $70,000? Overnight, Dan Price became a modern-day Robin Hood. But the reality, Businessweek’s Karen Weise discovered, is a little more complicated—at least according to Price’s brother, and his ex-wife.
Why America’s racial wealth gap persists. As a new generation of Americans graduates and starts careers and families, they have one thing in common with previous cohorts: thousands of little factors that exacerbate wealth and income inequalities along racial lines. Mel Jones examines them in the Washington Monthly.
Another language, another self. The Indian writer Jhumpa Lahiri became so obsessed with learning Italian that she stopped writing in English altogether, using only her adopted tongue. In doing so, she found her writing, and herself, transformed. She tells her story—translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein—in the New Yorker.
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