House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
A sea of high stakes
Written by Javier Maquieira, senior associate
Edited by Scott Reid, associate partner
21 August 2020
One of my personal treats during lockdown was the opportunity to travel the world from home. I ask you to hold your scepticism for a moment because, for the map geeks among us, Google Maps is more than an app to find the closest supermarket or coffee shop. It’s a lifestyle, and you’d be surprised at how many hidden beaches, hiking trails, and picturesque streets are out there waiting to be discovered.
And this week Google has given it an upgrade, unveiling a more colourful and detailed redesign of its Maps function using a “colour-mapping algorithmic technique” that makes different types of terrain easier to distinguish, “from the biggest metropolitan areas to small, rural towns.” The new update will be rolled out immediately for users in 220 countries.
What Google Maps can’t show us for now is the impact of human activity below street level and in our oceans. That’s for the scientists, and their view is – you guessed it – appalling.
A new study by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southampton suggests that there is more than 10 times as much plastic in the Atlantic Ocean as had previously been estimated. By analysing the chemistry of samples at depths between 10 and 200 metres at 12 locations in a line from the UK to the Falkland Islands, researchers at the NOC found 1,000 particles of microplastics per cubic metre of seawater, which translates into 12 to 21 million tonnes of plastic in the top 200 metres of the Atlantic.
Another human-made disaster in the Indian Ocean has also been making the headlines after a Japanese oil tank ran aground off the island of Mauritius earlier this month.
Although the amount of oil spilled by the ship is relatively low compared to previous offshore spillages, the wreckage has taken place close to a biodiversity hotspot comprised of two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the splendid turquoise waters of the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve.
Newly-captured satellite images evidence the environmental devastation, but just as worrying in the age of Covid-19 is the fact that disasters like this can also compromise global health.
According to Louis Metzger in Forbes magazine, the environmental degradation of coral reefs is also leading to a loss of ocean species with medicinal molecules that are essential to develop life-saving drugs. When observed in a test tube, for instance, Algae have been found to reduce the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to infect mammalian cells.
So while I may poke fun at being a Google Maps snoop, the perspective that it offers on our world is in fact a serious business. It spurs us on to take action, and cautions against a possible future when we might only experience our planet’s wonderful landscapes through a screen.
Joe Biden has formally accepted his nomination as the Democratic Party’s nominee to become president of the United States. In his speech on Thursday night, the former vice president cast Donald Trump as a divisive and failed leader and depicted the November election as a battle of light and darkness. Biden is currently leading in opinion polls over President Trump as both head into the election campaign.
Steve Bannon has been arrested and charged with fraud after leading a fundraising campaign to erect a wall on the US-Mexico border. The US Department of Justice alleged President Trump’s former adviser had received more than one million dollars, including $25m (£19m) raised for the “We Build the Wall” campaign, some funds of which he reportedly used to cover personal expenses. Bannon is credited with having fuelled Trump’s “America First” campaign in 2016.
Doctors treating Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have refused to let him leave the country for treatment after he was allegedly poisoned on Thursday, arguing he is too sick to be moved. Navalny, who is in a coma in intensive care in the Siberian city of Omsk, was due to be evacuated to a hospital in Germany. Navalny’s press secretary said from the hospital that “the ban on transporting Navalny is an attempt on his life.”
Business and economy
Airbnb has banned groups of more than 16 people staying in properties listed on its platform over virus and violence fears. The ban, which applies to all future bookings worldwide, is an extension of a previous moratorium on so-called “party houses” and complements additional restrictions on under-25s using Airbnb homes in the US, the UK and Canada. The short-let accommodation company said in a statement that “instituting a global ban on parties and events is in the best interest of public health”, adding that it would pursue legal action if guests or hosts broke the rules.
The number of people filing for unemployment in the US rose back to more than one million last week amid the coronavirus pandemic. The labor department has announced an increase of 135,000 in claims for benefits from the previous week, when weekly applications for unemployment had dipped below one million for the first time since March.
UK companies and employees have reportedly ignored the prime minister’s “return to work” guidance as just one in six workers have gone back to work in cities this summer. Data compiled by the Centre for Cities think tank suggests that Boris Johnson’s change in advice on 1 August had no impact on average staff footfall in the 63 largest cities and towns in Britain, placing thousands of small businesses at risk of collapse.
Columns of note
In the Financial Times, Tim Harford calls on governments to stay away from the sparkling promise of the algorithm to make life-changing decisions. He notes that algorithms can indeed mimic any historical pattern, but can’t substitute an easy question for the need to take hard decisions, as was the case with the exam grade fiascos. (£)
Writing in The Herald, Rebecca McQuillan argues that the UK government could do more to prevent human tragedies in the English Channel, starting with prioritising the duty of care over politics. She gives three ideas that Whitehall could use to cut the number of migrant crossings: safely resuming the international resettlement scheme, changing the rules on family reunion, and issuing humanitarian visas.
What happened yesterday?
London stocks closed in the red on Thursday amid concerns about rising coronavirus cases, with the FTSE 100 ending the session down 1.61% at 6,013.34. Sterling was stronger against both the dollar by 0.55% at $1.32 and the euro by 0.4% at €1.11. In the US, technology stocks rallied on Wall Street, helping push the S&P 500 up 0.3% by close of play.
In company news:
Antofagasta closed 5.57% lower after the copper miner posted a 22.4% fall in first-half earnings on weaker prices and sales, despite still paying a reduced dividend.
Frasers Group – formerly Sports Direct – ended the session 13.34% higher after announcing plans to spend £100m on its digital elevation strategy and forecasting a 10-30% improvement in underlying core earnings next year.
AO World gained 3.42% as the online electrical goods retailer reported strong sales growth for the four months to the end of July.
What’s happening today?
Vr Education H.
UK. economic announcements
(00:01) GFK Consumer Confidence
(07:00) Retail Sales
(07:00) Public Sector Net Borrowing
Int. economic announcements
(15:00) Existing Home Sales (US)
House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
House of Lords
In recess until 2 September 2020.
No business scheduled
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