Economist 6/23/16

  1. METEOROLOGISTS are forecasting a bumper monsoon for India this year. This is good news for the more than 600m people—about half of India’s population—who depend on the rains it brings.Monsoon climates typically have two very distinct seasons: wet and dry. In India, the onslaught of the rains begins when moist air is carried northwards from the Indian ocean during the summer.. Many factors seem to affect the duration and intensity of the monsoon. One is El Niño, a climatic phenomenon associated with warmer temperatures in the tropical Pacific ocean. Last year the monsoon proved disappointing while El Niño was in full swing: total rainfall between June and September was 14% below the 50-year average. How exactly the phenomenon interacts with the monsoon is not well understood.
  2. India is the world’s fourth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The insulating effect of such emissions helped make last year the hottest on record; this year looks set to be even more scorching. A warmer atmosphere probably means even greater variability in the monsoon.Rainfall extremes are expected to increase, thanks in part to the fact that a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture (about 7% more, for every degree Celsius of warming).Aerosols such as black carbon interact with sunlight. Some of these tiny particles—many less than a tenth the width of a human hair—scatter light, while others absorb it. In the former case, this prevents the light from warming the earth’s surface. In the latter, absorbing the light causes the particles to warm the air around them. Both alter the heating of the atmosphere, and therefore the heating of the land relative to the ocean—the process which drives the monsoon.
  3. Four years ago Boyan Slat, a Dutch inventor then aged 18, came up with the notion of using floating barriers to gather the millions of tonnes of plastic waste that end up in the sea each year and then harvesting it for recycling. With backing from the Dutch government and Boskalis, a marine-engineering firm, the idea gets its first real-world trial today. A 100-metre-long prototype will be deployed off the Netherlands’ coast to test its resilience to waves and currents (the real thing would be dozens of kilometres long) and check that the contraption poses no extra dangers to marine life.
  4. In recent years, airline safety videos have become entrancingly, maddeningly catchy.Virgin America is widely credited with launching the genre of entertaining safety videos, with a crudely animated effort in 2007.Air New Zealand was next. In 2009, it pioneered a new development in safety instruction: videos that would catch the attention not just of passengers, but also of the masses on the internet.Its masterpiece was a video narrated by nude airline crew members wearing body paint resembling their uniforms.Within a few weeks, a related 45-second commercial had become the most-viewed YouTube video ever from New Zealand. It was cheap publicity. According to the New York Times, “Each video took a day to shoot and cost about 10% to 15% of the cost of a major brand commercial.”Air New Zealand raised the bar again, for better or worse, in 2011, with a video that went well beyond simple safety instructions.Nonetheless, it gained more than 2m YouTube views in a week.Air New Zealand’s biggest hit was a Middle Earth-themed safety video, starring Elijah Wood and director Peter Jackson, that was released in 2014.
  5. Then there are alternate takes on the genre, like the one adopted by the Philippines’ Cebu Pacific, whose flight attendants favour a live safety performance while dancing to Lady Gaga.Yes, they are more likely to gain some flyers’ attention, but with some stretching to five minutes in length, they may also be just as likely to lose it. The useful instructions can get lost amid all the dancing, singing and cartoon characters. And despite greater variety, these videos are not actually delivering messages that are any clearer or more memorable.

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