August has been a scorcher which, depending on how you look at it, is both good and bad news. On the one hand you’ve been outdoors a lot and topped up your delicious tan, on the other it might be that the glorious heat has unwelcome origins, and heralds a new epoch for Earth.
Similarly the sunshine has proved difficult for French Muslims on the beach, as widespread bans on burkinis provoked heightened racial tensions in a country already struggling with Islamophobia and racially motivated violence.
On the plus side SpaceX is on track to launch a reusable rocket, and Donald Trump has been reasonably well behaved as the deadline for the US presidential race approaches (and that’s the last time you’ll hear his name in this month’s round-up). Swings and roundabouts…
Welcome to the Anthropocene!
So you think you’re living in the Holocene right? Wrong! Scientists reckon that due to our noble progress the human race has triggered a new geological epoch, impacted by plastic pollution and nuclear radiation. Welcome to the Anthropocene. The Working Group on the Anthropocene puts the dawn of this new era at the middle of the 20th century, when radioactive material from nuclear testing started to form part of the Earth’s crust—it is now presenting these recommendations to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town.
Other man-made effects to the environment include the rapid extinction of plant and animal species, fossil fuel sediment in glacial ice, a doubling of nitrogen levels in soil and of course, the universal dissemination of plastic particles, which some believe will create identifiable fossils for future generations to discover.
The Holocene epoch lasted some 12,000 years, and it appears we’ve eradicated it in less that 70. But it will still take two to three years for The Working Group on the Anthropocene to put together a sufficient body of evidence to support their claim and officially celebrate/commiserate the dawn of a new man-made epoch.
Monsanto Merger Materialises
Worrying news abounds for the future of global ecology and agriculture as German chemical and pharmaceutical behemoth Bayer advances its bid to purchase US-based agrochemical biotechnology giant Monsanto. Talks between CEOs Werner Baumann and Hugh Grant have advanced in recent weeks in spite of Monsanto’s previous refusal to accept Bayer’s offer of $55 billion for a total buyout.
The merger would make the Bayer/Monsanto hybrid company the world’s largest producer of seeds and pesticides, affording near total control over global commercial agriculture. Unfortunately Bayer has a poor reputation for its continued use of bee-killing glyphosate in its pesticides and lobbying of EU parliament members to loosen laws on dangerous chemicals.
While it has been suggested that the EU high commission would block the merger for its monopolisation of the market, it seems more likely than ever that the deal will go ahead. If that doesn’t sound like a plan you endorse, we suggest you sign this petition.
Assad on UN Payroll
In yet another confusing twist in Syria’s complex narrative, a Guardian report has revealed that the UN has been, inadvertently or otherwise, funnelling tens of millions of dollars to the Assad regime. Businesses under US and EU sanctions, for their close connection to the Syrian president, have been paid vast sums in aid contracts, with no guarantees given of how the money has been spent. The UN says that Bashar Al Assad’s regime limits the number of partners with which it can work, potentially compromising their mission.
The Guardian’s report shows aid spending of $13 million to boost farming, while EU bans are in place prohibiting agricultural trade with Syria, a $5 million injection into Syria’s national blood bank, currently under Assad’s control, and an $8.5 million partnership with two charities founded and chaired by Assad’s wife, Asma. The news compounds an already overwhelmingly complex global conflict, in which many local and global powers are politically and ideologically invested.
Brand New Second Hand
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to launch its first used rocket on a commercial flight later this year. The Californian aerospace company has been trying and failing for some time to integrate reused components into its aircrafts, to reduce the operating costs of each mission and maintain a competitive edge. Currently clients are looking to reduce commercial costs by 30% below their current $60 million mark.
The launch, scheduled for October, will see SpaceX partnering with global satellite services provider SES, who have been strong supporters of their Falcon 9 rocket since its inception. They say: “We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management.” Bring it on.
Texans Hold ‘Em
On August 1 Texas announced a new campus carry law, permitting students at its universities to carry concealed weapons at all times. Whether in class, in dorms, or in other public spaces, all students age 21 and over now have the right to carry concealed arms, provided they have a license.
Gun-control advocates have spoken out against the legislation, with some organising amusing protests engaging in activities bizarrely banned in the state. At the University of Texas in Austin, hundreds of protesters gathered on campus openly carrying sex toys, an act deemed indecent and still illegal under local law.
But in spite of outspoken voices the actions of Texan authorities reflect a growing support for increased armament in the wake of hundreds of mass shootings—a strange kind of logic to those of us accustomed to living without guns.
Human Rights for British Values
Prime Minister Theresa May and the UK Lord Chancellor Liz Truss have confirmed their intentions to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA 1988) in the UK and replace it with a British bill of human rights. The HRA has been enshrined in UK law since 2000, and includes 12 core rights to which all citizens are entitled, including the right to life, freedom of expression, marriage and found family, and freedom of religion.
Truss and May have yet to confirm whether the core human rights will be preserved in their new bill, or even alluded to its proposed contents. Scrapping the HRA was part of David Cameron’s 2015 election manifesto, and a key piece of proposed legislation during Michael Gove’s tenure as Justice Secretary. Much has changed since both men were in parliament, and what the new bill will look like is now anyone’s guess—but if you’re keen on preserving what we’ve already got, then Amnesty International is here to help.
On August 11 David Lisnard, the mayor of Cannes, France, took the measure of banning the burkini on his town’s beaches. The divisive move was carried out in the name of respecting “good customs and secularism,” he said.
“Beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order which it is necessary to prevent.”
The move came after a Bastille day terrorist attack in the nearby town of Nice, which left 85 people dead, and the murder of a priest in a church in northern France, both perpetrated by muslim attackers. While international media was quick to condemn the action, some 29 more coastal locations in France have since followed suit, with public officials speaking out in support of the controversial move.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy went one step further as he prepares to launch his bid to become president again in 2017, saying; “I refuse to let the burkini impose itself in French beaches and swimming pools… there must be a law to ban it throughout the Republic’s territory.”
Human rights advocates remain horrified by the move, and French citizens divided over its adherence to French values. It stands in stark contrast to last month’s announcement that the French government would look to fund more mosques.
Weapons of Reason issue #3: The New Old, is available to order now.