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Vol. 28 No. 4 | May/Jun 2018

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GORBACHEV WARNS WORLD LEADERS

In January of this year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, published in Chicago, moved the symbolic Doomsday Clock to two minutes to “Midnight,” half a minute closer than before. The last time the clock was set to signal such imminent nuclear danger was in 1953.

“The alarm that people feel today is fully justified,” writes Mikhail Gorbachev, the former President of the Soviet Union, who has long championed the cause of nuclear disarmament. In December 1987, he signed together with US President Ronald Reagan the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which significantly reduced the number of nuclear weapons on both the American and Soviet sides.

However, in a piece published in Time on March 2018, Gorbachev issues an urgent call to action to world leaders to work towards the prevention of nuclear catastrophe. He cites worrying developments: on the Russian side, President Vladimir Putin recently announced in an address before the Federal Assembly the creation of new types of weapons, including weapons that no other country possesses at this time.

On the American side, The National Security Strategy and Nuclear Posture Review, a key military strategy plan drawn up by President Donald Trump’s administration in February, “calls for the development of new, ‘more flexible’ nuclear weapons.”

Gorbachev reminds his readers that war is not the solution to the planet’s real problems, such as terrorism, poverty and environmental collapse. “We must demand that the world leaders return to the path of dialogue and negotiations,” he urges, suggesting that the United Nations convene an emergency session of the General Assembly to find solutions for disarmament, “however dismal the current situation.”“Mikhail Gorbachev: The U.S. and Russia Must Stop the Race to Nuclear War,”
www.time.com, March 9, 2018.

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION THREATENED IN SWEDEN

Sweden has long been regarded as a model for the world of tolerance and inclusivity. However that image does not sit well with the ruling Social Democratic Party’s recent promise for the autumn elections, namely to forbid the establishment of new religious school and close down existing ones. “It’s necessary that we put a stop [to religious schools],” said Ardalan Shekarabi, Sweden’s Minister of Public Administration.

“The Swedish educational system has gone in the wrong direction for the last few decades. We have seen a development in regards to religious schools that in several cases have meant religious oppression,” Minister Shekarabi explained.

The Social Democrats’ proposal seeks to ban organised religious education during school hours in all schools in Sweden. It concedes that it does not seek to uproot religion completely, as it will continue to allow students with a common faith to practice certain aspects of their religion, for example to pray together, as long as it is not during school hours.

Also, education minister Gustav Fridolin of the Green Party has announced that the government will launch an investigation of religious schools. Under special scrutiny will be schools such as the Muslim school Al Azhar in Vällingby, Stockholm, which has reportedly divided up students by gender, boys and girls.

Proponents of the ban point to the fact that religious extremism is spreading in Sweden’s suburbs and that religious schools seem to attract extremists.

Critics of the Social Democrat’s proposal say that a total ban is not the right solution, suggesting instead that the School Inspection Agency target the few problematic schools, and allow the vast majority of well-functioning religious school to continue their activity. “Socialdemokraterna vill stoppa religiösa friskolor,” www.dn.se, March 13, 2018

CONSERVATIONISTS MOURN “THINNING OF LIFE”

On March 19, 2018, the last male northern white rhino, called Sudan, died at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He is survived by his daughter and granddaughter, the only two female specimens of this subspecies left alive in the world. Hope for preserving the northern white rhino are now resting solely on in vitro fertilization (IVF) methods.

While Sudan was put to sleep because of old age-related complications, the subspecies he represented has been nearly wiped out by the demand for rhino horn for use in traditional Chinese medicine and for dagger handles in Yemen.

Countless species are threatened today. Tiger numbers have decreased by ninty five percent in the last century, while the African lion population has dropped by forty percent over the last twenty years. Kenyan birds of prey, European flying insects, migrant birds in Portugal and fish species worldwide are dropping in numbers.

Some of the bleakest forecasts were issued in a report published on March 14, 2018 and conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), University of East Anglia and James Cook University, a study that puts into perspective the impact of global warming on nearly 80,000 animal species from thirty-five regions. It warns that the largest tropical rainforest in the world, the Amazon, could lose sixty percent of plant species and almost half of its animal species by the end of this century. This scenario would be the result of a global temperature rise by ‘only’ 3.2 degrees Celsius, the current target set by governments. Even if temperatures rose by 2 degrees Celsius, the world’s great forests will lose a quarter of their wildlife, the specialists predict.

The bleaching of coral reefs globally in particular has led conservationists to feel a deep sense of personal loss. Recently meteorologist Eric Holthaus gave words online to what many concerned wildlife lovers feel: “How am I supposed to do my job—literally to chronicle planetary suicide—without experiencing existential despair myself? Impossible.”“Northern white rhino: Last male Sudan dies in Kenya,” www.bbc.com, March 20, 2018; “Creation Groans, but God Hears: Many Species Face ‘Thinning of Life,’” www.christianitytoday.com, March 2, 2018.

EXTREME WEATHER ON THE INCREASE

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the year 2017 has set a new record regarding the economic impact of extreme weather: $306 billion. Sixteen of these events caused each over $1 billion in damage—among them three monster hurricanes and a devastating wildfire season. The 2017 cumulus way surpasses the previous one-year record of $215 billion reached in 2005.

The Universal Ecological Fund, a non-profit organisation, published a report entitled “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States” in September 2017. The document estimates that the yearly average of climate-related economic damage and health costs will rise from $240 billion over the past decade to $360 billion over the next ten years.

Experts agree that global temperatures are increasing. The Paris Agreement set the goal of the temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But even the “aspirational target” of 1 degree increase could cause more extreme weather, such as floods, droughts and heat waves than we are experiencing at present, in the US and around the world. On the other hand, Massachusetts Institute of Technology experts forecast that global temperatures will rise by closer to 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit), which would bring even more devastating weather.“The Number of Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters in the U.S. Is Surging,” www.fortune.com, January 25, 2018. “Even in best-case scenario for climate-change, extreme weather events likely to continue increasing, experts say,” www.usatoday.com, February 14, 2018.

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