Economist 5/11/16

  1. THE world’s first comprehensive survey of wild plants suggests that more than a fifth of species are threatened with extinction. Farming, logging and land development account for over 60% of the threat, according to “The State of the World’s Plants 2016”, published today by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.They estimate that science knows of 391,000 species of vascular plant (things botanical that are not algae or mosses). Of these, 369,000 are flowering plants. The rest are conifers, cycads, ferns and so on.Botanists in Brazil have recently set up “DetWeb”, a website that collects images of plants from social media so that they can be  more easily screened by experts. In the near future, a new generation of citizen scientists armed with smartphones could help to fill in the plant world’s taxonomic blanks.
  2. A sense of civic outrage has evolved into something new for Lebanese voters: secular, issue-based politics. For the first time since the civil war (1975-1990), an independent coalition of concerned citizens took on Lebanon’s old guard for control of Beirut’s municipal council. Beirut Madinati (Beirut Is My City) is the political reinvention of last year’s “You Stink” movement.This shift from street protest into Western-style democratic organisation has electrified Beirut’s disgruntled middle classes. Their modern campaign, financed through crowd-funding and individual donations, also attracted thousands of disenchanted millennials, both as volunteers and as first-time voters
  3. Beirut’s previous municipal election was a landslide for a cross-party alliance sponsored by Beirut’s favourite son, Saad al-Hariri, the billionaire leader of the Sunni “Future Movement” (and son of the assassinated former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri). The Hariri-backed council, though, is corrupt and ineffective, even according to its own supporters. But a well-honed system of patronage and intimidation has discouraged credible opposition.Mr Hariri fielded an expanded alliance for this election.Mr Hariri’s alliance adopted many of Beirut Madinati’s pledges: reduced pollution, affordable housing and financial transparency.The final results gave Mr Hariri’s list 60% of the vote to Beirut Madinati’s 40%. But under Lebanon’s first-past-the-post electoral system it won all 24 municipal seats. Nevertheless, these tallies suggest a much closer fight than previous elections.
  4. MEXICO City’s levels of ozone, a pollutant which can damage lung tissue and cause breathing difficulties, are the highest of any city in Mexico and well beyond the recommended limits of the World Health Organisation.But in 2016 they have been particularly high. Indeed, in March, Mexico City endured its first “ozone alert” in almost 14 years.The government responded to the first alarm by introducing new driving rules for those in the wider metropolitan area. From April to June, every car must be kept off the road for one day of the working week and one Saturday a month.But, as the recent alerts show, Mexico City still has a problem and the government is struggling to come up with a solution.The biggest difficulty is the sheer number of cars: about 5.5m in a city of over 20m souls. And they do not move quickly. A recent index released by TomTom, a navigation specialist, named Mexico City the most congested city in the world. Idling cars add to the pollution problem.
  5. Moreover, privately operated microbuses are responsible for over 50% of all the journeys taken in the city: most are over 20 years old, and they are egregious polluters. The city’s altitude, at around 2,200 metres, also causes difficulties. Ozone is created more readily at such elevation, and engines work less efficiently and spit out more pollutants.The fact that the city has mountains around it does not help either, as the polluted air cannot escape easily, especially during the windless days the city has experienced recently.Money has been invested in public transport: in subway extensions, a “bus rapid transit” system and a bike-sharing scheme. But more is needed at a time when government budgets are being cut. The regional body that deals with the capital’s environment has put an annual price of 40 billion pesos ($2.2 billion) on sorting out the city’s pollution problems—far beyond city or federal means
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