Vaclav Smil: “Growth must end. Our economist friends don’t seem to realise that.”

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Vaclav Smil: “Growth must end. Our economist friends don’t seem to realise that.”

Vaclav Smil is a distinguished professor emeritus in the faculty of environment at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. Over more than 40 years, his books on the environment, population, food and energy have steadily grown in influence. He is now seen as one of the world’s foremost thinkers on development history and a master of statistical analysis. Bill Gates says he waits for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie. The latest is Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities.

You are the nerd’s nerd. There is perhaps no other academic who paints pictures with numbers like you. You dug up the astonishing statistic that China has poured more cement every three years since 2003 than the US managed in the entire 20th century. You calculated that in 2000, the dry mass of all the humans in the world was 125m metric tonnes compared with just 10m tonnes for all wild vertebrates. And now you explore patterns of growth, from the healthy development of forests and brains to the unhealthy increase in obesity and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Before we get into those deeper issues, can I ask if you see yourself as a nerd?

Not at all. I’m just an old-fashioned scientist describing the world and the lay of the land as it is. That’s all there is to it. It’s not good enough just to say life is better or the trains are faster. You have to bring in the numbers. This book is an exercise in buttressing what I have to say with numbers so people see these are the facts and they are difficult to dispute.

Growth is a huge book – almost 200,000 words that synthesise many of your other studies, ranging across the world and exploring far into the past and future. Do you see this as your magnum opus?

I have deliberately set out to write the megabook on growth. In a way, it’s unwieldy and unreasonable. People can take any number of books out of it – economists can read about the growth of GDP and population; biologists can read about the growth of organisms and human bodies. But I wanted to put it all together under one roof so people could see how these things are inevitably connected and how it all shares one crystal clarity: that growth must come to an end. Our economist friends don’t seem to realise that.

I first came across your work while I was writing a book about the Chinese environment. Time and again, you had the data that I was looking for – and it often revealed how dubious many of the official statistics were. You have been described as a “slayer of bullshit”. Is that your goal?

I was brought up in Czechoslovakia during the era of the Soviet bloc. Having spent 26 years of my life in the evil empire, I do not tolerate nonsense. I grew up surrounded by commie propaganda – the bright tomorrow, the great future of mankind – so I’m as critical as they come. It’s not my opinion. These are the facts. I don’t write opinion pieces. I write things that are totally underlined by facts.

You debunk overly rosy projections by techno-optimists, who say we can solve all our problems with smarter computers, and economists, who promise endless capitalist growth. In many countries, the downside of material growth now seems greater than the upside, which leads to what you call “anthropogenic insults to ecosystems”. Is that a fair summary?

Yes, I think so. Without a biosphere in a good shape, there is no life on the planet. It’s very simple. That’s all you need to know. The economists will tell you we can decouple growth from material consumption, but that is total nonsense. The options are quite clear from the historical evidence. If you don’t manage decline, then you succumb to it and you are gone. The best hope is that you find some way to manage it. We are in a better position to do that now than we were 50 or 100 years ago, because our knowledge is much vaster. If we sit down, we can come up with something. It won’t be painless, but we can come up with ways to minimise that pain.

So we need to change our expectations of GDP growth?

Yes, the simple fact is that however you define happiness, we know – and we have known this for ages – that the amount of GDP is not going to improve your satisfaction with life, equanimity and sense of wellbeing. Look at Japan. They are pretty rich but they are among the unhappiest people on the planet. Then who is always in the top 10 of the happiest people? It is the Philippines, which is much poorer and smitten by typhoons, yet many times more happy than their neighbours in Japan. Once you reach a certain point, the benefits of GDP growth start to level off in terms of mortality, nutrition and education.

Is that point the golden mean? Is that what we should be aiming for rather than pushing until growth becomes malign, cancerous, obese and environmentally destructive?

Exactly. That would be nice. We could halve our energy and material consumption and this would put us back around the level of the 1960s. We could cut down without losing anything important. Life wasn’t horrible in 1960s or 70s Europe. People from Copenhagen would no longer be able to fly to Singapore for a three-day visit, but so what? Not much is going to happen to their lives. People don’t realise how much slack in the system we have.

The growth of information is not just a flood or an explosion. Those adjectives are inadequate. We are buried under information. It’s not doing anyone any good
You cite Kenneth Boulding’s distinction between the “cowboy economy” and the “spaceman economy”. The former is wide-open spaces and seemingly endless opportunities for resource consumption. The latter is a recognition that planet Earth is more like a closed spaceship on which we need to carefully manage our resources. The challenge is to shift from one way of thinking to another. But human history is thousands of years of cowboys and only a few decades of spacemen. Aren’t we hardwired?

There is a deep tradition both in the eastern and western traditions of frugality, living within your means and a contemplative life. It has always been like this. Now there is this louder voice calling for more consumption and a bigger bathroom and an SUV, but it’s increasingly apparent that cannot go on. It will be something like smoking, which was everywhere 50 years ago. But now that people realise the clear link to lung cancer, this is restricted. The same will happen when people realise where material growth is taking us. It is a matter of time I think.

How do we move in that direction before the risks become unmanageable?

To answer this, it’s important not to talk in global terms. There will be many approaches which have to be tailored and targeted to each different audience. There is this pernicious idea by this [Thomas] Friedman guy that the world is flat and everything is now the same, so what works in one place can work for everyone. But that’s totally wrong. For example, Denmark has nothing in common with Nigeria. What you do in each place will be different. What we need in Nigeria is more food, more growth. In Philippines we need a little more of it. And in Canada and Sweden, we need less of it. We have to look at it from different points of view. In some places we have to foster what economists call de-growth. In other places, we have to foster growth.

Your one-man statistical analysis is like the entire output of the World Bank. Did this research make you feel we are closer to the end of growth than you previously realised?

People ask me if I am an optimist or a pessimist and I say neither. I am not trying to be deliberately agnostic: this is the best conclusion I can come up with. In China, I told people how bad the environment was and the picture totally shocked people. They said: “When will it collapse?” And I’d answer: “It’s collapsing every day, but it’s also being fixed every day.” They used more coal and got more air pollution, but they also took billions from the World Bank and finally have modern water treatment in big cities. Now they are using modern farming, so they use less water for irrigation. This is how it is. This is what kind of species we are: we are stupid, we are negligent, we are tardy. But on the other hand, we are adaptable, we are smart and even as things are falling apart, we are trying to stitch them together. But the most difficult thing is to calculate the net effect. Are we up or down? For all the analysis, we don’t know this.

Your book notes that the entire library of Rome, 2,000 years ago, contained about 3 gigabytes of information, but now the global internet has more than a trillion times more. You are clearly sceptical this has been a net positive or that it has improved our ability to deal with our problems.

The growth of information is not just a flood or an explosion. Those adjectives are inadequate. We are buried under information. It’s not doing anyone any good. There are satellites above us producing huge amounts of information, but there are not enough people to analyse it. Yes, computers can help and shrink the amount, but someone still has to make decisions. There is too much to grasp.

Did you experience any statgasms (statistical orgasms) is the course of the research?

I am a biologist by training, so I was delighted to read new studies about the world’s biggest trees – the redwoods and eucalyptus. They never stop growing. And for elephants, they have indeterminate patterns of growth and never really stop until they die. We humans stop when we are 18 or 19. But the biggest species on the planet keep on growing until they die.

And on human population?

What is most remarkable is how rapid the decline has been. For more than a 100 years, the growth rate accelerated. The 1930s faster than the 20s, the 40s faster than the 30s and so on. By the 1960s, the world population was growing so fast that a famous paper in Science said that by 2024, it would be growing at an infinite rate – like a population singularity moment, which is, of course, absurd. Since then, the rate has declined every year. Population continues to grow in absolute terms, but in percentage terms it has been declining since the mid-60s.

Overall, I would say the tone of the book is pessimistic, but you also mention the possibility of a more optimistic scenario in which the global population does not expand beyond 9 billion – as is currently predicted – and in which the energy transition is faster than expected. Even if material demands peak before 2050, that still leaves us several decades of rising pressure. Given the already apparent strains on the climate, the soil, biodiversity and social stability, how do we get over this dangerous bulge?

That is the difficult part. In the western world and Japan, we are almost there. China still has a way to go because it is at the level of Spain in the 1960s in terms of energy. The real bulge is coming in Africa, where 1 billion more people will be born. Just to bring the current African population to a decent level of living, like Vietnam and Thailand, is tough. To do that with an extra billion will be extraordinarily hard. You can bring it all down to one figure – it is gigajoules of consumption of energy per person per year, but the unit is not important. Just consider the comparison. The US is about 300. Japan is about 170. The EU is about 150. China is now close to 100. India is 20. Nigeria is 5. Ethiopia is 2. To grow from Nigeria to China is a 20-fold increase just on per capita terms. Such is the scale of the bulge. So you can cut consumption in Copenhagen or Sussex, but not in Nigeria.

Is ageing Japan a model? It strikes me as incredible that the country has been able to weather a long decline of property prices, stock market values, population vitality and influence without sliding into chaos. Are there lessons there for others who face involuntary retreat?

Japan can only be a partial model, because until recently it was such a frugal and disciplined society that people there can tolerate what others would not accept. But we have slack. We are so fat in terms of material consumption. There is room to cut back. But there is no easy answer. If there were, we would have already done it.

Can businessmen accept an end to growth? Have you mentioned this to Bill Gates?

I don’t need to tell him. He knows a lot about the environment. Put aside the billions of dollars and he is just a guy who likes to understand the world. He reads dozens of books every year. Like me.

What Microsoft founder Bill Gates says about Vaclav Smil’s books

Energy and Civilization: A History
(MIT Press, 2017)

“Smil is one of my favourite authors and this is his masterpiece. He lays out how our need for energy has shaped human history – from the era of donkey-powered mills to today’s quest for renewable energy.”

Making the Modern World: Materials & Dematerialization
(Wiley, 2013)

“If anyone tries to tell you we’re using fewer materials, send him this book. With his usual scepticism and his love of data, Smil shows how our ability to make things with less material – say, soda cans that need less aluminium – makes them cheaper, which actually encourages more production. We’re using more stuff than ever.”

Harvesting the Biosphere
(MIT Press, 2013)

“Here [Smil] gives as clear and as numeric a picture as is possible of how humans have altered the biosphere… it tells a critical story if you care about the impact we’re having on the planet.”


Sudan criminalises female genital mutilation, welcoming new era for women’s rights in the country.

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Sudan criminalises female genital mutilation, welcoming new era for women’s rights in the country.

Sudan has criminalised female genital mutilation (FGM), making it punishable by three years in jail, a move campaigners said ushered in a ‘new era’ for women’s rights in the African nation.

Almost nine out of 10 women and girls in predominately Muslim Sudan have undergone FGM, United Nations data show. The procedure usually involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia and can cause a host of health problems.

The Sudanese government approved an amendment to its criminal legislation on 22 April, stating that anyone who performs FGM either inside a medical establishment or elsewhere faces three years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Female Sudanese demonstrators make the peace gesture as they arrive for the sit-in protest outside Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan last April

Female Sudanese demonstrators make the peace gesture as they arrive for the sit-in protest outside Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan last April


Women’s rights groups said the punishment would help to end FGM, but warned it would be difficult to change minds in communities that view the traditional practice as necessary to marry their daughters.


‘Having a law against FGM acts as an important deterrent, however, Sudan may face challenges in enforcing legislation. People who still believe in the practice might not report cases or act to stop FGM when they know it is happening.’

Communities may look for ways to avoid detection, while officials who believe in the practice may not uphold the law, warned Mohamed.

An estimated 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM, which is practised in at least 27 African countries and parts of Asia and the Middle East. Girls can bleed to death or die from infections, while FGM can also cause fatal childbirth complications later, say health experts. In Sudan, more than three-quarters of procedures are conducted by nurses, midwives or other medical personnel, says anti-FGM campaign group 28 Too Many.

In many cases, most of the vaginal opening is sewn up after removal of the external genitalia, a practice known as reinfibulation that can lead to cysts, injury to the urethra, painful sex and inability to orgasm.

Ex-female genital mutilation (FGM) cutter Monika Cheptilak, who stopped practicing after the country set an anti-FGM law in 2010, shows a homemade tool from a nail used for FGM, during the meeting of anti-FGM women group in Alakas village, bordering with Kenya, northeast Uganda on January 31, 2018

Ex-female genital mutilation (FGM) cutter Monika Cheptilak, who stopped practicing after the country set an anti-FGM law in 2010, shows a homemade tool from a nail used for FGM, during the meeting of anti-FGM women group in Alakas village, bordering with Kenya, northeast Uganda on January 31, 2018


Sudanese women face a barrage of threats, from child marriage to domestic violence and rape. Yet there are few policies in place to protect women and girls. Marital rape and child marriage, for example, are not considered crimes.

Women’s issues have however gained greater attention in the last year, following the prominent role women and girls played in nine-month-long street protests which ousted veteran autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April last year.

The transitional government has pledged to prioritise the women’s rights and Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok has appointed women to cabinet positions of foreign affairs, youth and sports, higher education and labour and social development.

The new regime also repealed its public order act, which tightly restricted women’s freedom of dress, movement, association, work and study during Bashir’s three-decade rule.

Anti-FGM campaigners said criminalisation of the internationally condemned practice was a sign of the new government’s commitment towards democracy and equality.

‘Sudan has truly entered a New Era for Girl Rights with Criminalisation of FGM. What an incredible day for my sisters and the future of Africa,’ tweeted Somali-born British campaigner Nimco Ali.

‘Sudan I am so proud of you. May Allah guide give you and your people the peace and democracy you have longed for. And thank you for placing the protection of women and girls at the heart of this new chapter.’


The world is on lockdown. So where are all the carbon emissions coming from?

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The world is on lockdown. So where are all the carbon emissions coming from?

Pedestrians have taken over city streets, people have almost entirely stopped flying, skies are blue (even in Los Angeles!) for the first time in decades, and global CO2 emissions are on-track to drop by … about 5.5 percent.

Wait, what? Even with the global economy at a near-standstill, the best analysis suggests that the world is still on track to release 95 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted in a typical year, continuing to heat up the planet and driving climate change even as we’re stuck at home.

A 5.5-percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions would still be the largest yearly change on record, beating out the financial crisis of 2008 and World War II. But it’s worth wondering: Where do all of those emissions come from? And if stopping most travel and transport isn’t enough to slow down climate change, what will be?

“I think the main issue is that people focus way, way too much on people’s personal footprints, and whether they fly or not, without really dealing with the structural things that really cause carbon dioxide levels to go up,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.

Transportation makes up a little over 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. (In the United States, it makes up around 28 percent.) That’s a significant chunk, but it also means that even if all travel were completely carbon-free (imagine a renewable-powered, electrified train system, combined with personal EVs and battery-powered airplanes), there’d still be another 80 percent of fossil fuel emissions billowing into the skies.

So where are all those emissions coming from? For one thing, utilities are still generating roughly the same amount of electricity — even if more of it’s going to houses instead of workplaces. Electricity and heating combined account for over 40 percent of global emissions. Many people around the world rely on wood, coal, and natural gas to keep their homes warm and cook their food — and in most places, electricity isn’t so green either.

Even with a bigger proportion of the world working from home, people still need the grid to keep the lights on and connect to the internet. “There’s a shift from offices to homes, but the power hasn’t been turned off, and that power is still being generated largely by fossil fuels,” Schmidt said. In the United States, 60 percent of electricity generation still comes from coal, oil, and natural gas. (There is evidence, however, that the lockdown is shifting when people use electricity, which has some consequences for renewables.)

Manufacturing, construction, and other types of industry account for approximately 20 percent of CO2 emissions. Certain industrial processes like steel production and aluminum smelting use huge amounts of fossil fuels — and so far, Schmidt says, that type of production has mostly continued despite the pandemic.

The reality is that emissions need to be cut by 7.6 percent every year to keep global warming from surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — the threshold associated with the most dangerous climate threats — according to an analysis by the United Nations Environment Program. Even if the global lockdown and economic slump reduce emissions by 7.6 percent this year, emissions would have to fall even more the year after that. And the year after that. And so on.

In the middle of the pandemic, it’s become common to point to clear skies in Los Angeles and the cleaner waters of Venice as evidence that people can make a difference on climate change. “The newly iconic photos of a crystal-clear Los Angeles skyline without its usual shroud of smog are unwanted but compelling evidence of what can happen when individuals stop driving vehicles that pollute the air,” wrote Michael Grunwald in POLITICO magazine.

But these arguments conflate air and water pollution — crucial environmental issues in their own right! — with CO2 emissions. Carbon dioxide is invisible, and power plants and oil refineries are still pumping it into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, natural gas companies and livestock farming (think cow burps) keep releasing methane.

“I think people should bike instead of driving, and they should take the train instead of flying,” said Schmidt. “But those are small, compared to the really big structural things that haven’t changed.”

It’s worth remembering that a dip in carbon emissions won’t lead to any changes in the Earth’s warming trend. Some scientists compare carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to water flowing into a leaky bathtub. The lockdown has turned the tap down, not off. Until we cut emissions to net-zero — so that emissions flowing into the atmosphere are equivalent to those flowing out — the Earth will continue warming.To first order, think of CO₂ concentrations in the atmosphere as the water in a bathtub & CO₂ emissions as the tap. The lockdowns mean the tap has been turned down slightly, so CO₂ is still streaming into the bathtub (& some leaks out the bottom)

That helps explain why 2020 is already on track to be the warmest ever recorded, beating out 2016. In a sad irony, the decrease in air pollution may make it even hotter. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego, explained that many polluting particles have a “masking” effect on global warming, reflecting the sun’s rays, canceling out some of the warming from greenhouse gas emissions. With that shield of pollution gone, Ramanathan said, “We could see an increase in warming.”

Appreciate the bluer skies and fresher air, while you can. But the emissions drop from the pandemic should be a warning, not a cause for celebration: a sign of how much further there is to go.


The Sun Is Asleep. Deep ‘Solar Minimum’ Feared As 2020 Sees Record-Setting 100-Day Slump.


The Sun Is Asleep. Deep ‘Solar Minimum’ Feared As 2020 Sees Record-Setting 100-Day Slump.

While we on Earth suffer from coronavirus, our star—the Sun—is having a lockdown all of its own. reports that already there have been 100 days in 2020 when our Sun has displayed zero sunspots.

That makes 2020 the second consecutive year of a record-setting low number of sunspots— which you can see (a complete absence of) here.

Note: never look at the Sun with the naked eye or through binoculars or a telescope that aren’t fitted with solar filters.

So are we in an eternal sunshine of the spotless kind?

“This is a sign that solar minimum is underway,” reads “So far this year, the Sun has been blank 76% of the time, a rate surpassed only once before in the Space Age. Last year, 2019, the Sun was blank 77% of the time. Two consecutive years of record-setting spotlessness adds up to a very deep solar minimum, indeed.”

What is a sunspot?

It’s an area of intense magnetic activity on the surface of the Sun—a storm—that appears as an area of darkness. Sunspots are indicative of solar activity, birthing solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Although sunspots seem like tiny specks, they can be colossal in size.

Sunspots have been continuously counted each day since 1838, which has allowed solar scientists to describe a repeating pattern in the wax and wane of activity on the Sun’s surface—the solar cycle.

MORE FROM FORBESIs Our Sun In A 9,000 Year ‘Feeble Phase?’ Similar Stars Are Five Times More Fickle, Find Scientists

What is the solar cycle?

The Sun has a cycle that lasts between nine and 14 years—typically 11 years, on average—and right now we’re in the trough. At the peak of that cycle—called solar maximum—the Sun produces more electrons and protons as huge solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

From a visual perspective, the solar cycle is a “sunspot cycle” since solar scientists can gauge where the Sun is in its cycle by counting sunspots on its surface.

How does the solar cycle affect Earth?

While there’s some evidence that the solar cycle affects Earth’s weather and climate, the status of the Sun has the most obvious effect on the intensity and frequency of aurora. The more charged-up the solar wind headed towards Earth, the brighter and more frequent are the displays of Northern Lights and Southern Lights. What’s known as the ‘auroral oval’ gets larger, too, so people who live in areas that normally don’t experience aurora—such as the USA and Western Europe—sometimes get to see them.

Either way, a solar maximum is historically when aurora are at their most frequent and spectacular.

MORE FROM FORBESHow To See A Bright ‘Parade Of Planets’ From Your Home: What You Can See In The Night Sky This Week

What is ‘solar minimum’?

Just as solar maximum sees many sunspots, the trough of solar minimum features zero sunspots—and that’s what’s going on now. However, it’s been continuing rather longer than expected, which means the Sun is in the midst of a particularly deep solar minimum. The most infamous happened between 1645 to 1715 when a “Maunder Minimum” saw a prolonged sunspot minimum when sunspots were very rare for an extended period.

The current record-breaking solar minimum is part of a longer pattern of wax and wane; in fact, it’s believed that the Sun may have been in a magnetic lull for the last 9,000 years at least.

It’s thought that the Sun will reach solar maximum in the mid-2020s, though exactly when sunspot frequency will peak is anyone’s guess. It’s something that can usually only be described in retrospect. The last solar maximum was in 2013/2014, but was was ranked among the weakest on record.

Once way to gauge what’s going on visually is by counting sunspots—and the other is by looking at the Sun’s mighty corona during a total solar eclipse.

Luckily, there’s one coming up in North America right on cue.

How the solar cycle affects solar eclipses

During a total solar eclipse it’s possible to see clear, naked eye evidence of where the Sun is in its cycle. Totality—when the Moon completely blocks the Sun’s bright disk—affords a brief view of the Sun’s corona, its hot outer atmosphere. During solar minimum the corona is relatively small and tightly bound to the surface. During solar maximum, the Sun’s corona is typically flared and stretching away into space.

How to see explosions on the Sun

When the Sun is at solar maximum the likelihood is increased of seeing prominences—huge solar flares and coronal mass ejections in action—around the limb of the Moon during a total solar eclipse.

Here’s an image (above) of some pink prominences that can be seen with the naked eye only during a total solar eclipse.

Why is this good news for North American eclipse-chasers?

All of this is well-timed for the next total solar eclipse in North America on April 8, 2024, since the Sun will, by then, be approaching solar maximum.

The 100-mile wide path of totality will, during the 139 minutes it’s over land, afford a stunning view (if skies are clear) of a flared and stretched corona from anyone within under the Moon’s shadow in:

U.S: Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Canada: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.


Economic Recovery Will Require ‘Lessening Of The Wealth Gap,’ Says Hedge Fund Titan.

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Economic Recovery Will Require ‘Lessening Of The Wealth Gap,’ Says Hedge Fund Titan.

Ray Dalio is known for making lucrative predictions. His hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, is the largest in the world. But Dalio, a billionaire himself and one of the world’s most successful investors, says capitalism is broken.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Dalio had warned that the wealth gap represented a “national emergency.” The outbreak, he says, is only exacerbating the disparities between the rich and the poor.

“We will have ahead of us the question of who’s going to pay the bills and how will we redefine things,” he says, adding that the solutions will “necessitate a lessening of the wealth gap.”

Dalio spoke with NPR’s Morning Edition on Wednesday about what he thinks the crisis will mean for income inequality and the future health of the economy more broadly. Here is what he had to say:

You’ve been concerned about the wealth gap since before this, before the pandemic. Is there a set of circumstances in which that gets better? And what are those circumstances?

Well, history has shown the same things happen over and over again. You have the crash in the ’30s as a great model. There’s the United States, there’s other countries and there is a lot of fighting over wealth just as a basic principle. The United States maintained a civility, but there was a wealth gap, there needed to be a shift in wealth. And there [were] jobs programs. There were changes in taxation and so on. And the United States did it in the best way in the world.

Over the weekend, the pope in his Easter address appeared to endorse a universal basic income — a government guarantee that every citizen receives a minimum income. What do you think about a universal basic income to address some of the structural inequalities that have you so worried that capitalism is not working the way it should?

We are now in an era of universal basic income.

Oh, you mean now with the pandemic, people getting checks in the mail?

Right, and it won’t be adequate. And the only question is how long that lasts.

How long should it last?

It has to last long enough so that there’s subsistence. It’s the quick and easy way for getting a certain amount of purchasing power in the hands of those people. And of course, it’s a transfer of wealth and that should exist. And I think there’s a wonderful opportunity here if we can operate well to restructure the way the system is working in a way to increase the size of the pie and divide it well.

What does the U.S. economy look like when this is over?

We will have a lot of people suffering financially, not just here, but around the world. I worry about the anger and the fighting and what that might be like. And we’re going to be much more isolated, not just because of the virus, but because of the fact that everybody knows that they have to have self-sufficiency from the individual all the way to the country. In either case, we still have the greatest asset of humanity — the ability to adapt, invent and come up with things. And we will do that effectively and we will get past it. But it may take a few years and it may be nasty in the process.


Dutch court allows euthanasia in advanced dementia cases.

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Dutch court allows euthanasia in advanced dementia cases.

Doctors in the Netherlands may legally euthanize patients with severe dementia who previously provided a written request for the procedure, the country’s highest court ruled Tuesday.

In the landmark decision, the court said that a physician may respond to a written request for euthanasia made before someone develops advanced dementia, provided certain legal requirements are met — even if the patient’s condition means they become unable to confirm that request.

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands if the relevant criteria are met, which include a voluntary and well-considered request from the patient, “unbearable suffering without any prospect of improvement,” and the lack of a “reasonable alternative,” according to the Royal Dutch Medical Association.

If those conditions are not met, the practice is still a punishable offense.

In 2002, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia.
Tuesday’s ruling follows the criminal and disciplinary case against a nursing home doctor who in 2016 ended the life of a 74-year-old woman suffering from dementia. The woman had written a directive asking for euthanasia in the event she was admitted to a nursing home with dementia and she thought the time was right.
Prosecutors had argued that the doctor did not do enough to confirm consent in ending the woman’s life, saying that once she was admitted to the home, she gave “mixed signals.”
At the time, the court concluded that the unidentified doctor, who has since retired, carried out euthanasia in accordance with the law and had not been negligent.
In its judgment Tuesday, the Supreme Court sought “to give direction to euthanasia lawmaking.”
“A doctor may respond to a written request for granting euthanasia to people with advanced dementia. In such a situation, all legal requirements for euthanasia must be met, including the requirement that there is hopeless and unbearable suffering. The doctor is then not punishable,” the Supreme Court said in a statement Tuesday.
The ruling also noted that doctors can legally follow through with the procedure if the patient can no longer agree to it, due to their illness.
“Even if it is clear that the request is intended for the situation of advanced dementia, and that situation is reached so that the patient is no longer is able to form and express a will, there can be circumstances where no follow-up on the request is possible,” it said.
René Héman, president of the Royal Dutch Medical Association welcomed the ruling, but warned that the situation remained complicated for doctors.
“It is good that there is now a ruling from the Supreme Court. But even with more legal clarity, not all complicated dilemmas around euthanasia in the case of dementia are gone. With every request to end a life, a doctor must still make an individual assessment if euthanasia is appropriate and if all due care criteria are met,” Héman said in a statement.
“Doctors act according to professional standards and also on their moral compass. The doctor’s own consideration is and remains very important,” he added.

WHO officials are unclear if recovered coronavirus patients are immune to second infection.

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WHO officials are unclear if recovered coronavirus patients are immune to second infection.

World Health Organization officials said Monday not all people who recover from the coronavirus have the antibodies to fight a second infection, raising concern that patients may not develop immunity after surviving Covid-19.

“With regards to recovery and then reinfection, I believe we do not have the answers to that. That is an unknown,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, said at a press conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters on Monday.

A preliminary study of patients in Shanghai found that some patients had “no detectable antibody response” while others had a very high response, said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s lead scientist on Covid-19. Whether the patients who had a strong antibody response were immune to a second infection is “a separate question,” she added.

More than 300,000 of the 1.87 million coronavirus cases across the world have recovered, WHO officials noted, adding that they need more data from recovered patients to understand their antibody response, whether that gives them immunity and for how long.

“That’s something that we really need to better understand is what does that antibody response look like in terms of immunity,” Van Kerkhove said.

Ryan said there are questions about whether the virus can reactivate after a patient recovers and tests negative for Covid-19.

“There are many reasons why we might see reactivation of infection either with the same infection or another infectious agent,” he said. In general, “there are many situations in viral infection where someone doesn’t clear the virus entirely from their system.” Some patients can also clear the main infection but develop a secondary bacterial infection, he said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that it is developing a test to detect the presence of coronavirus antibodies to determine if a person could be immune to the disease. While such a test can determine who has been exposed to the virus, it’s not clear if it can identify those immune to reinfection, according to the WHO.

WHO officials also warned Monday against lifting social distancing restrictions and reopening businesses, even as U.S. political leaders, from President Donald Trump to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have said they hope to reopen businesses as soon as it is safe to do so.

“While Covid-19 accelerates very fast, it decelerates much more slowly. In other words, the way down is much slower than the way up,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters on Monday. “That means control measures must be lifted slowly and with control. It cannot happen all at once.”

Tedros outlined a checklist for countries before they should consider lifting social distancing measures:

  • Transmission of the virus should be controlled.
  • A surveillance system should be in place to detect, isolate and treat patients.
  • Outbreaks in hospitals and nursing homes should be minimized.
  • Preventive measures in essential locations such as schools and workplaces should be in place.
  • The risk of importing the disease from abroad should be under control.

“Control measures can only be lifted if the right public health measures are in place, including significant capacity for contact tracing,” Tedros said.


Canada bans assault-style weapons after its worst ever mass murder

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Canada bans assault-style weapons after its worst ever mass murder.

Assault-style weapons are banned in Canada effective immediately, the country’s prime minister said Friday.

The move comes less than two weeks after Canada’s deadliest rampage in modern history, when a gunman in Nova Scotia killed 22 people after a 12-hour reign of terror.
“You don’t need an AR-15 to bring down a deer,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa. “So, effective immediately, it is no longer permitted to buy, sell, transport, import or use military-grade assault weapons in this country.”

Police said the gunman had several semi-automatic handguns and at least two semi-automatic rifles, one of which was described by witnesses as a military-style assault weapon.

“These weapons were designed for one purpose, and one purpose only, to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time. There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada,” Trudeau said.

The ban is effective immediately but disposal of the weapons will be subject to a two-year amnesty period. Trudeau said some form of compensation would also be put in place but the firearms can also be exported and sold after a proper export license is obtained.

Trudeau said that “thoughts and prayers” for mass shooting victims were no longer enough and that’s why his government acted.
Investigators gather outside Nova Scotia clinic owned by the gunman who police said was responsible for a killing spree.

The Nova Scotia shooter used a replica police car and an RCMP uniform to impersonate a police officer as he killed both people he knew and strangers, police said. He was fatally shot by officers.
Of the 22 people killed, 13 were shot and nine died in house fires, Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Tuesday.
RCMP said the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, 51, also killed or wounded animals and pets that he found at the homes.
Police believe Wortman acted alone in the shootings and arsons.
The gunman did not have a firearms license and that only one weapon was traced back to Canada, police said.
Last week, RCMP announced its officers had expanded their investigation into the US but would not elaborate on the nature of their leads. Police say they believe the gunman acquired at least some of his weapons in the US.
Legislation had been in the works for months after Trudeau promised during his reelection campaign in late 2019 to beef up gun control, especially for cities hard hit by gang violence.
Trudeau failed to make good on a 2015 election promise to restrict sales of assault weapons in Canada.


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