Good morning, Quartz readers!
Seven months ago, when Volkswagen admitted to fixing 11 million diesel vehicles to cheat emissions tests, some suspected this was not an isolated case but rather an example of more widespread malfeasance, on par with the rate-rigging scandals that had engulfed the world’s big banks. Was this the car industry’s “Libor moment”?
So it now seems. This week Mitsubishi fessed up to cheating on emissions as well. French authorities raided Peugeot Citroen’s offices. Germany’s Daimler acknowledged that US regulators have the company in their sights. A UK government testing program reported that no other manufacturers besides VW had rigged their vehicles, but that all of their cars had higher emissions in real life than on the test track. There were calls in Australia for the government to adopt independent testing.
VW revealed that the scandal cost it at least €16.2 billion ($18.2 billion) last year. But that’s just on paper. The real cost of the scandal is the extra carbon that drivers have been unwittingly pumping into the atmosphere.
That’s especially bitter to contemplate in light of two other events this week: the signing of the COP21 emissions-reduction deal, agreed to in Paris last December, and the release of data showing that 2016, month for month, continues to be the hottest year on record. COP21 was already looking inadequate to slow global warming to safe levels. It’s worse still if we can’t even trust the data on how much carbon we’re emitting.
With any luck, the betrayal by the automakers will prompt enough consumers to agitate for change. It’s not much of a silver lining, but in a grim week for the planet all round, it’s worth grasping at. —Gideon Lichfield
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
A cradle of terrorism. The northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar had all the right ingredients for making jihadis. Peter Schwartzstein breaks down the recipe, which is central to understanding the Islamic State’s rise—and could help us identify the next potential hotbeds of extremism.
Employed, but not gainfully. Throughout Nigeria, civil servants have grown used to going unpaid—sometimes for months on end. They’re driving taxis, taking on debt, and, as Yemisi Adegoke finds, putting little faith in the notion that anything will change for them.
A unique brand of environmentalism. H&M probably talks more about sustainability than any of its fast-fashion rivals, and it can be an effective message. But as Marc Bain notes, it’s hard to reduce your environmental footprint when you’re busy doubling your retail footprint.
The many jobs of your microbiota. The human body is made up of about 30 trillion of our own cells and about 40 trillion bacteria, along with viruses and fungi. Katherine Foley examines the new research showing how these visitors affect just about every aspect of our health, from the nutrition we get from our food, to our immune systems, to our moods.
Model behavior. Matt Phillips argues that there is such a thing as responsible deficit spending, and right now you can find it in Canada, where Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is conducting an economic policy experiment worth watching.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
How “mixed reality” will change your world. Wired’s Kevin Kelly profiles Magic Leap, the secretive company building headsets that fill your surroundings with hyper-realistic fictional objects. This, he argues, is the beginning of nothing less than a new kind of internet—the “internet of experiences.” It’s a compelling vision of the future, but the Verge not-so-subtly suggests Kelly has drunk too much Kool-Aid.
The Arctic suicides. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that everyone in Greenland knows someone who has killed himself,” writes Rebecca Hersher. For NPR, she went there to hear stories about the isolation, assimilation, and modernization that locals blame for the epidemic, which now accounts for more deaths than cancer.
Sweden vs. the fantasy of Sweden. US liberals often cite Scandinavia as a shining model for their country to follow. Johan Norberg, a Swede, writes in Reason magazine about how his home country’s liberalized market reality belies these images of a socialist utopia. If Bernie Sanders ran for office in Sweden, he would be seen as “far too much of a leftist and a protectionist.”
A portrait of American financial fragility. For the Atlantic, Neal Gabler relates in excruciating detail how his financial choices place him in America’s upper middle class as a successful writer and university lecturer, yet he still wouldn’t be able to scrape together an extra $400 in an emergency. He’s part of the 47% of Americans in a similarly precarious position.
Google’s contrasting relationships with power. The Intercept’s David Dayen provides detailed, interactive charts that document every meeting between White House officials and Google staffers, and also the frequent job-hopping between Mountain View and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In Europe, in contrast, EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager is going for Google’s jugular in much the same way American trust-busters once went after Microsoft, as Nicholas Hirst explains for Politico Europe.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, microbiota, and Swedish economic fantasies to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.