The flagship environmental channel, National Geographic and the reputed fact checker, Snopes recently debunked social media claims regarding improvement in the environment like increased dolphin and swan sightings in Italy. In the meantime, this has spiked up fresh debate between environmentalists and scientists worldwide: Can the human social isolation adopted to fight against the ongoing COVID-19, do any good torevive Nature? Or is it just a temporary distraction to the underlying problem at hand, i.e the pandemic itself?
Crux of the Matter
Small Step To Giant Leap in Carbon Footprint Reduction? The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. As per reports released by researchers at Columbia University (CU), emission of carbon monoxide from cars and planet heating Carbon Dioxide (CO2), has reduced by nearly 50% as compared to 2019, improving the overall environment. With schools and businesses adopting strict work from home policy worldwide, there could be a further decrease in travel carbon footprint.
An analysis by China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment suggests that there has been a 35% drop in energy usage of fossil fuels like coal, over a two week period due to less industrial activities. The Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimates it to be equivalent to 200 million tons of CO2. In Europe, satellite images show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions receding in northern Italy, Spain, and the UK.
On the flip side, the household carbon footprint has the potential to increase. It depends mainly on weather conditions, geography and different family lifestyles followed at home. According to Jacqueline Klopp, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at CU, “People may spend more time watching television or using appliances if they’re cooped up in their houses, increasing household’s carbon footprint.”
India Takes Deep Breaths as Air Quality Improves Over 90 cities in the nation have recorded minimum air pollution recently during the ongoing 21 days lockdown period aimed to control COVID-19. As per figures generated by the Government-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), there has been a noteworthy drop in PM2.5 (fine particulate pollutant) by 30 percent in Delhi. In Pune, Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) pollution has reduced by 43 percent, in Mumbai, by 38 percent, and in Ahmedabad, by 50 percent.
What Has Happened in the Past? Julia Pongratz, professor at the University of Munich, Germany, discovered that epidemics left subtle prints on atmospheric CO2 levels, by measuring tiny bubbles trapped in ancient ice cores. The list included epidemics such as the Black Death in Europe in the 14th Century and smallpox in South America. Even in the case of afinancial crash of 2008-09, there was an overall dip in emissions of 1.3%. Combined emissions from manufacturing, industrial processes and construction round up to 18.4% of global anthropogenic emissions.
Challenge Yet to be Addressed: Clean Energy Plans Paused A global recession as a result of coronavirus shutdowns could stall the shift to clean energy. If capital markets lock up, it will become difficult for companies to secure financing for planned wind and electric grid projects, and it could bomb proposals already made or new projects. Low prices could further depress electric-vehicle sales and make people less inclined toward projects like retrofitting energy-saving homes and offices.
As a matter of fact, the world’s largest share of solar panels, wind turbines, and lithium-ion batteries are produced in China. The Dragon land is already relaxingenvironmentalsupervision of companies to stimulate its economy, which means that the aforementioned 25% cut in carbon emissions could evaporate, followed by even more emissions than before. Similarly, US has a $2 trillion stimulus bill passed earlier this week and is being popularised as the largest fiscal stimulus package in modern American history. It does include direct payments to individuals and extended unemployment benefits but not relief for renewables, such as crucial tax credit extensions for solar and wind energy.
Sneak Peek to a Zero-Carbon Economy? The world can have a promising future of coexistence of both Human Beings, natural environment and other living species including birds and animals if there is both public and political will with international cooperation. Policymakers can further move forward with their climatic plans of action while keeping the global economy stable, as stated by the European Green Deal, a new policy package that commits European Union member states to zero emissions by 2050.
On the digital front, Tech giant IBM has already launched a Call for Code Global Challenge which addresses both climate change and COVID-19 and shall involve different coding communities round the globe. With the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow planned to be derailed till the pandemic cools down, online environmental activism is parallelly being carried out. Thus not with mere words, but by actual actions, we can look forward to a greener, more sustainable future.
India doing it’s own part in bringing together willing climate patriots
A carbon footprint is historically defined as the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent. Greenhouse gases, including the carbon-containing gases carbon dioxide and methane, can be emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, land clearance and the production and consumption of food, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation and other services.
An individual’s, nation’s, or organization’s carbon footprint can be measured by undertaking a GHG emissions assessment, a life cycle assessment, or other calculative activities denoted as carbon accounting. More Info
Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year. WHO data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants in the environment. From smog hanging over cities to smoke inside the home, air pollution poses a major threat to health and climate. The combined effects of ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution cause about seven million premature deaths every year.80% people are affected by its unfortunate consequences, in the form of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections. More Info
China and South East Asia are preparing for a second wave of the Coronavirus that may be caused from asymptomatic cases and the infected people who have come from abroad. With the number of cases rising rapidly in the US, Italy, and Spain, nations worldwide are aggressively enforcing lockdowns as the world awaits a cure. Complete Coverage: Coronavirus
Crux of the Matter
Is the Second Wave of Virus Looming Over? As reported by South China Morning Post, China, in its 80,000 patient tally, did not include 40,000 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 but showed mild or no symptoms. As the number of positive cases coming from abroad seems to be growing in China – in the last week China has reported 313 imported cases, they pose a great threat of a second wave of Coronavirus in the nation. Travel restrictions and other lockdown restrictions were lifted in China which will lead to more human movement, leading to more chances of asymptomatic people or “silent carriers” infecting others.
Japan also saw a surge in the number of cases recently. With Singapore, Thailand, Pakistan, India and other South Asian nations seeing a rise in the number of cases, experts have debunked the World Health Organisations’ previous claim that pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic transmission was ‘relatively rare’. Studies from Japan, South Korea, Italy, and the USA substantiate that silent spreaders are the latest threat to the community. In view of the threat of second wave, China has ordered all cinemas and other important places to shut down again.
Approximately half of all residents with positive test results did not have any symptoms at the time of testing, suggesting that transmission from asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic residents—who were not recognized as having [the coronavirus] infection and therefore not isolated—might have contributed to further spread.
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
New Hotspots Italy was the first hotspot of Coronavirus outside of Mainland China. A few days back, it reported the highest one-day death toll from that virus, 919. The number of cases in Italy is nearing 100,000 with a fatality rate of nearly 10%. The US, on the other hand, is nearing 150,000 cases. However, it only has around 2,500 fatalities. There is a growing number of cases in Spain as well followed by Germany France, Iran, and the UK. The global toll of infections has crossed 700,000-mark with a death toll of around 34,000.
Coronavirus is the common name for Coronaviridae and Orthocoronavirinae, also called Coronavirinae. Coronaviruses cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans, the viruses cause respiratory infections, including the common cold, which are typically mild, though rarer forms such as SARS, MERS and COVID-19 can be lethal. Symptoms vary in other species: in chickens, they cause an upper respiratory disease, while in cows and pigs coronaviruses cause diarrhea. There are no vaccines or antiviral drugs to prevent or treat human coronavirus infections. They are enveloped viruses with a positive-sense single-stranded RNA genome and a nucleocapsid of helical symmetry. The genome size of coronaviruses ranges from approximately 26 to 32 kilobases, the largest for an RNA virus. The name “coronavirus” is derived from the Ancient Greek word ‘korone’, meaning crown or halo, which refers to the characteristic appearance of the virus particles (virions): they have a fringe reminiscent of a crown or of a solar corona. More Info
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has estimated that India may require around 1 million Coronavirus test kits and has put a bid for the same. Recently, a Pune-based company Mylabs got approval for testing kits and is likely to bid for manufacturing testing kits at nearly one-fourth the rate. Complete Coverage: Coronavirus
Crux of the Matter
Coronavirus Update In India, Coronavirus cases have crossed the 700-mark and the death toll is nearing 20 as on 27 March. The government has declared a shutdown to stem the spread of virus. But that may not be enough if proper Coronavirus testing is not carried out.
It is evident from USA’s current predicament, what harm lack of proper testing can do. It has more than 85,000 COVID-19 patients, surpassing the number of Coronavirus cases in China. The global count of Coronavirus cases is now more than half a million.
India Looks Inward for Solutions To meet the demand of 1 million Coronavirus testing kits, Ahmedabad-based CoSara Diagnostics has become the only Indian company so far to receive the consent to manufacture test kits. Following suit, Pune-based microbiology lab Mylab got approval from Indian FDA-CDSCO for its indigenous COVID-19 testing kits that reduces testing time from 6 hours to 2.5hours. It has assured the government that it can produce 1 lakh testing kits per week and even increase production if needed.
ICMR has also said that it will begin conducting tests for antibodies. This is called Serological test. It looks for antibodies in a person’s blood. It tells the doctors if the patient had developed antibodies to Coronavirus.
Chinese Kits – A Noose for Countries Till date, countries like Spain and the Czech Republic were using a faulty testing kit produced by China. Spain said that the test kits could only detect 30% of the cases correctly. Spain currently has more than 4,000 deaths, world’s second-highest.
Thus Indian authorities have decided the standards of the test kits to be equivalent to the criteria set by US Food and Drug Administration or the European regulator’s CE in-vitro diagnostics (IVD) certification. It can also be validated through a validation certificate issued by the National Institute of Virology in Pune.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, is one of the oldest and largest medical research bodies in the world. The ICMR is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. ICMR’s 26 national institutes address themselves to research on specific health topics like tuberculosis, leprosy, cholera and diarrhoeal diseases, viral diseases including AIDS, malaria, kala-azar, vector control, nutrition, food & drug toxicology, reproduction, immuno-haematology, oncology, medical statistics, etc. The Indian Journal of Medical Research is published under the auspices of the council. More Info
The USA has declared a bounty of $55 million for information on connections of the President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro and his associates in drug trafficking and narco-terrorism.
Crux of the Matter
Maduro has had topsy-turvy relations with the US since his re-election in the 2018 elections. The US accused Maduro of occupying the Presidential post unconstitutionally in the country. But Maduro, backed by Russia and China, continued serving as the President.
The US declared charges against Maduro after an investigation by US Federal services. The US said that strict steps are necessary to remove deeply rooted corruption in Venezuela that has resulted in the crippling of its democracy and democratic values. Allegations on Maduro are that he helped the Colombian revolutionary group, the FARC for drug trafficking and flooding the United States with Cocaine. He is also accused of facilitating drug trafficking routes through air and water via Venezuela along with running a drug cartel even though he is occupying a government office.
Thus amid escalating tension, US and US allies evacuated their embassies from Venezuela. Besides Maduro, the US has filed charges against more than a dozen others that include Venezuelan government and intelligence officials and members of the Colombian rebel group FARC.
Maduro defended himself by saying that Donald Trump is politically motivated to remove him from the office. He added that before the US Presidential election, such a move might give Donald Trump fame, and thus he is trying hard to make it more political. He further said that by hook or crook the US wants him to vacate his post.
Nicolás Maduro Moros is a Venezuelan politician serving as president of Venezuela since 2013. His presidency has been disputed by Juan Guaidó since January 2019. Beginning his working life as a bus driver, Maduro rose to become a trade union leader before being elected to the National Assembly in 2000. He was appointed to a number of positions under President Hugo Chávez and was described in 2012 by the Wall Street Journal as the “most capable administrator and politician of Chávez’s inner circle”. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006 to 2013 and as vice president of Venezuela from 2012 to 2013 under Chávez. After Chávez’s death was announced on 5 March 2013, Maduro assumed the presidency.
Shortages in Venezuela and decreased living standards led to protests beginning in 2014 that escalated into daily marches nationwide, repression of dissent and a decline in Maduro’s popularity. According to The New York Times, Maduro’s administration was held “responsible for grossly mismanaging the economy and plunging the country into a deep humanitarian crisis” and attempting to “crush the opposition by jailing or exiling critics, and using lethal force against anti-government protesters”. An opposition-led National Assembly was elected in 2015 and a movement toward recalling Maduro began in 2016. Maduro called for a rewrite of the constitution, and the Constituent Assembly of Venezuela was elected in 2017, under what many—including Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega and Smartmatic, the company that ran the voting machines—considered irregular voting conditions; the majority of its members were pro-Maduro. On 20 May 2018, presidential elections were called prematurely, opposition leaders had been jailed, exiled or forbidden to run, there was no international observation, and tactics to suggest voters could lose their jobs or social welfare if they did not vote for Maduro were used. Multiple nations did not recognize the Constituent Assembly election or the validity of Maduro’s 2018 reelection;the Canadian, Panamanian, and the United States governments sanctioned Maduro. More Info
The American nonprofit organization ProPublica and US tabloid Daily Beast have reported that members of Congress sold equities after receiving briefings on the Dow Jones (DJIA) stock market dangers of COVID-19, much before the Trump administration announced it publicly. Two Senators, Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler that came in the red limelight of insider trading, have conveniently denied the allegations.
Crux of the Matter
Public Servants by Day, Perpetrators by Night? Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee downplayed the financial threat to the American citizens while he was hastily unloading between $628,000 and $1.72m of personal holdings. Next in the row, Senator Kelly Loeffler, wife of New York Stock Exchange’s chairman, sold a substantial amount of stock while buying shares in the teleworking company Citrix.
Public Servants’ ‘Insider Edge’ Insider trading/dealing occurs when someone who has a fiduciary duty to another person, or to an institution, corporation, partnership, firm, or entity, makes a trade of stock based on information that’s not available to the general public. This can directly lead to the former’s unfair gain and the latter’s unfortunate loss. Just like in the aforementioned cases wherein Members of Congress are legally barred from buying and selling based on the information they get in classified briefings.
This practice wasn’t considered illegal at the beginning of the 20th century and a Supreme Court ruling once referred to it as a “perk” of being an executive. A whistleblower, while in conversation with a popular US Daily, once claimed that members of Congress and higher-ups in government jobs were not only trading on inside information they gleaned from their regular assignments, but were also being fed tips from agencies like the Internal Revenue Service on corporate takeovers.
Nonetheless, after feeling the negative shift in public opinion regarding the decade-old deleveraging, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) became involved and the Securities Exchange Act was passed in 1934. Section 16 of this act requires that when an “insider“, defined as all officers, directors, and 10% owners, buys the corporation’s stock and sells it within six months, all of the profits must go to the company. Additionally, they ought to disclose the changes in the ownership of their positions, including all purchases and dispositions of shares. This aims to remove major trading activities when it’s impossible for insiders to personally gain from small moves.
STOCK v/s Private Moonlighting The STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act is a law that was passed during the Obama era, in 2012 and it clearly states that members of Congress and other government employees are not allowed to engage in insider trading based on information they learn through their jobs. Even the President, the Vice President, executive branch employees and judges were included in this law, making it a far stricter enforcement from the previous two trading laws.
However in 2013, it did get rid of a provision that the financial disclosures required by the law be posted online on official websites. Burr, who had opposed the bill passed for STOCK, said in his defence to this ongoing pandemic stock market wrongdoings that he relied solely on public news reports. He tried to offer alternate explanations for choosing to make money at a time when he should have been offering Americans the truth.
Can They ever be Tamed? SEC to the Rescue?
Make blind trusts mandatory for Members of Congress to end Congressional Insider Trading once and for all.
– Peter Schweizer, author of Profiles in Corruption: Abuse of Power by America’s Progressive Elite.
The first thing that pops in the mind now is that can these people be trusted to make laws neutrally, if they are financially invested in only the outcome of those laws? Is this simply an invitation for more corruption? After all, unethical behavior becomes especially more unacceptable in the midst of a deadly pandemic like COVID-19 that has infectedmore than 450,000 and killedmore than 20,000 to date.
SEC has officially announced the provision of conditional regulatory relief for certain publicly traded companies. The order, in an effort to address potential compliance issues, gives public companies an additional 45 days to file certain disclosure reports that would otherwise have been due between March 1 and April 30, 2020. Among other conditions, companies must provide a summary of why the relief is needed in their particular circumstances.
Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, co-directors of the SEC’s division of enforcement, have urged public companies to be mindful of their disclosure controls and procedures, insider-trading prohibitions, codes of ethics and Regulation FD. This step has been rightfully taken to prevent improper dissemination and use of material non-public information.
Additionally, whistleblowers, including those who reside outside of the United States, can qualify for financial awards under the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistleblower provisions. In case they qualify SEC’s confidential filing procedures, they can file potential fraud violations to the Commission anonymously via the TCR (“tip, complaint, and referral”) form. They are even eligible for a reward once the SEC issues sanctions based on the whistleblower’s information of $1 million or more. The office says it has paid over $300 million to the anonymous tippers in the past.
Stock market refers to the collection of markets and exchanges where regular activities of buying, selling, and issuance of shares of publicly-held companies take place. Such financial activities are conducted through institutionalized formal exchanges or over-the-counter (OTC) marketplaces which operate under a defined set of regulations. There can be multiple stock trading venues in a country or a region which allow transactions in stocks and other forms of securities. The leading stock exchanges in the U.S. include the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), Nasdaq, and the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). These leading national exchanges, along with several other exchanges operating in the country, form the stock market of the U.S. More Info
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), is a stock market index that measures the stock performance of 30 large companies listed on stock exchanges in the United States. The value of the index is the sum of the price of one share of stock for each component company divided by a factor which changes whenever one of the component stocks has a stock split or stock dividend, so as to generate a consistent value for the index. Investing in the DJIA is possible via index funds as well as via derivatives such as option contracts and futures contracts. More Info