Thursday, October 31, 2019

Number of the day: 1.6 kg

According to a new environmental report, watching a half-hour show causes emissions equivalent to 1.6 kg of carbon dioxide—which is the same as driving 6.28 km. Also: online video streaming services generate as much in emissions as the entire country of Spain. And that is expected to double as streaming services like Netflix et al spread around the world. Yes, we want to ruin your happiness.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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An alarming new climate change report

Using a completely new methodology, a recently published study predicts that rising sea levels caused by climate change will wipe out some of the biggest coastal cities in the world.

What’s this report: This new study was published by the New Jersey-based Climate Central in the Nature Communications journal. It uses a new methodology to revise climate change predictions of rising sea levels. As per this new research, rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously estimated. Land that is currently populated by 300 million people will flood at least once a year by 2050. The previous estimate was 80 million.

What’s this new methodology? Previous predictions were based on NASA’s satellite data that overestimated the altitude of coastal land. As one of the paper's lead author explains, “Standard elevation measurements using satellites struggle to differentiate the true ground level from the tops of trees or buildings”—i.e. satellite data would mistake the top of a building or tree for the height of the land below. This study instead relied on artificial intelligence to figure out the error rate and correct for it. But the vast disparity came as a shock even to the researchers.

What does the report say? The biggest changes in damage predictions are in Asia, and they are pretty dire.

  • 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by 2050. By 2100, land that is home to 200 million people could sink permanently below the high tide line—making it unlivable.

  • The reason: Sea levels are expected to rise between two to seven feet (0.6 meters to 2.1 meters) over the next three decades.

  • Land that is currently home to about 300 million people will face severe floods at least once a year by 2050. The new estimates increase this risk more than eightfold in Bangladesh, sevenfold in India, twelvefold in Thailand and threefold in China.

  • 70% of the people at risk are in eight Asian countries: China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan.
  • The cities expected to disappear or be mostly under water include: Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Alexandria, Basra, Shanghai and Hong Kong. 

What about India? 35 million Indians are at risk.Most of Mumbai—especially south and suburban parts—will be either under water or experience annual catastrophic flooding. According to the New York Times, "Built on what was a series of islands, the city's historic downtown core is particularly vulnerable." (The Climate Central image above shows the parts at risk in red.) Also at risk: Kolkata.

Why are sea levels rising, again? The world is set to warm up by 1.5° C by 2030, and head for 2C if we fail to take urgent action. And the consequences of passing the 1.5C threshold will be devastating. Our oceans are heating up and—more importantly—glaciers are melting across the world, which in turn is driving up sea levels. (See more in our explainers on climate change and melting glaciers)

So Mumbai will be gone by 2050? The study doesn’t account for human intervention —be it reducing carbon emissions or using new technology. It assumes that the world will continue to warm to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. Also: sea walls and other barriers can be strengthened. Point to remember: 110 million people already live in areas that are below the high tide line thanks to such protective measures. An equally important point to remember: one such place is New Orleans where such barriers failed to stem catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina. 

The bottomline: The shoreline has retreated by more than 20 metres at some Mumbai beaches over the past 15 years. The state government is building 20 sea walls—including four off Mumbai—and has launched a mangrove planting campaign along the state's 720-kilometre coast. These modest efforts—often accompanied by ecologically destructive development—won’t be enough to hold back the raging seas. We simply have to do more and soon.

Learn more: Read the original article in the Nature Communications journal. New York Times offers the most immersive dive with alarming maps of various major cities. Washington Post rounds up the scientific community’s response to the study and its methodology. For more background: Check out our explainers on climate change and melting glaciers.

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saying boo to fellow Indians celebrating Halloween

Israeli spyware used to target Indians: WhatsApp is suing an Israeli firm, NSO Group, for creating a spyware app called Pegasus. It allows governments and intelligence agencies to use a single WhatsApp call to gain total access to a person’s phone (See: our explainer on this Tom Clancy-esque story). The company now says that Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those targeted. According to Indian Express, “at least two dozen academics, lawyers, Dalit activists and journalists in India were contacted and alerted by WhatsApp.” (Indian Express)


Your Kashmir Yatra update is here: A delegation of Members of the European Parliament took a one-day jaunt to Kashmir—supposedly arranged by a mysterious woman named Madi Sharma (our explainer here). However, Huffington Post spoke to two sources who claim that the entire roadshow was orchestrated by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. The aim: to push back at the “liberal bias” in the international community’s response to the government’s actions in Kashmir. And it is likely the first of many. Plus: Indian Express reports on their tour of a mostly empty Srinagar—where all the shops were shut in protest. 


In Kashmir-related news: Today the state will be carved up into two Union Territories—J&K and Ladakh—each with its own lieutenant-governor. Point to note: Local governments have far less power in a UT than a state—and LGs have far more authority. But who will form this government? Mint reports on the political vacuum in Kashmir, and explains why the winter months will be critical. Indian Express flags the group of Kashmiri politicians who met with the European delegation—and who may emerge as a possible alternative in this ‘new’ Kashmir.


Twitter makes Facebook look bad: Twitter announced a ban on political advertising starting next month—and with perfect timing. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently got raked over the coals at a Congressional hearing for carrying political ads that include blatantly false information. Even his own employees challenged the company’s decision in a letter that said: “We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.”


Donald Trump may finally be in serious trouble: The National Security Adviser who testified in front of Congress says the White House altered the transcript of Trump’s infamous phone call. Both key omissions related to his Democratic rival Joe Biden. Also: House Democrats are planning to take the impeachment hearings public—in an election year! Load up on the popcorn! And while you’re waiting: check out this hilarious mashup of Barack Obama’s Bin Laden speech with Donald Trump’s al-Baghdadi speech. Thank you, Jimmy Kimmel!


Was Jeffrey Epstein murdered? A famous forensic pathologist was brought in to examine the body of the pedophile billionaire who was found dead in his prison cell. Dr. Michael Baden—hired by Epstein’s brother—says Epstein had three fractures to his larynx: “I’ve not seen in 50 years where that occurred in a suicidal hanging case.” (Fox News)


Bangladesh cricket skipper in trouble: The ICC has suspended Shakib Al Hasan from all forms of cricket for two years (one year of it suspended). It also released details of a WhatsApp convo between him and an Indian bookie—who repeatedly approached him for insider information. According to the ICC, Shakib claimed “that he did not accept or act upon any of the approaches he received from Mr Aggarwal, in particular, he did not provide him with any of the information requested, nor did he accept or receive any money or other reward from Mr Aggarwal. However, he did not at any time report any of the approaches to the ACU or any other relevant authority.” (Hindustan Times)


Indians enter ‘healthy lifestyle’ hall of shame: According to a FitBit report, we are the least active on a list of 18 countries. We averagely log only 6,533 steps and are active for only 32 minutes a day. Also: we are the second-most sleep deprived after the Japanese—our average being 7 hours and 1 minute. The most sleep-happy nation: Ireland, which comes very close to the eight-hour gold standard. (Mint)


A must-watch William Dalrymple interview: In this brilliant clip, the historian draws a thought-provoking line between Britain’s shameful colonial past and its present Brexit debacle. 


Have an old iPhone or iPad? You better update your OS ekdum jaldi or else you will lose internet connectivity. CNN has all the details. 


Some emojis have a porn problem: Please don’t pair a baingan or a peach with a sexy photo on Facebook or Insta. S’all we’re saying. (Times of India)


The body count of Game of Thrones prequels: is one. Of the two prequels in the works, the one starring Naomi Watts has been canned after the pilot episode was shot over the summer. The other has a name, ‘House of Dragons’ and a logo, but is still in development—and therefore in danger of being killed at a later date… which is only fitting for anything GoT. (Bustle)


Babies can understand 1, 2, 3…: Using a sample pool of of 16 babies between the ages of 17 and 20 months. (“Four additional infants were excluded for fussiness”), scientists have shown that babies may understand counting long before they understand numbers. No cuddly toys were hurt in the course of testing. (Smithsonian Magazine)


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • Celebrity Halloween costumes of 2019. Check out Time’s excellent photo gallery or take a ‘Who Wore It Better’ Buzzfeed quiz. 

  • A Renaissance painting that hung for years over a kitchen hotplate and just fetched $26.6 million at an auction.

  • The Queen looking seriously chill with her hands in her pockets. 

  • A must-see poster of things you don’t see in mainstream porn 

  • An instant pick-me-up collection of photos of Turkey’s rainbow-coloured neighbourhoods and buildings 

  • NASA’s Halloween gift to the world. Hint: you’ll never see the sun quite the same way again.

  • A photo gallery of the doggie Halloween parade in New York. Need we say more?

  • The perfect Halloween clip for cat lovers and their friends. Watch and share! 

  • Nike’s awesome plus-size mannequin which isn’t new but still very cool to see ICYMI. 

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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A ‘Halloween is Fun’ Edition

Many of us think that there’s nothing more pretentious than Indians embracing the most American of celebrations. But we firmly believe that there is no cultural monopoly on having super spooky fun. So here’s a double dose of it.

The most jugaadu Halloween costumes ever

Here’s a collection of hilarious home-made efforts to turn oneself into a Ferrero Rocher chocolate, Google map or, literally, fifty shades of grey. As Indians, we totally heart these tongue-in-cheek examples of low-budget creativity.

Read: People share the hilarious home-made efforts they put together last minute | Daily Mail

Sex, Love etc 2

The painted queens of Halloween

Meet the women who have aced their Halloween look. No, these aren’t amateurs but seasoned body painters and makeup pros who create eye-popping transformations. Go ahead, check out their work. We guarantee you will be amazed.

Read: For these women, it’s Halloween all year round | BBC

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