Saturday, August 18, 2018




The Economist August 11th 2018

Charlemagne | Street politics
What a campaign to revive Russia's urban spaces might mean for civil society

SOVIET SQUARE in Voronezh no longer looks especially Soviet. Children dart through a dancing fountain, bmx bikers barrel across new tiles. Grassy groves play home to picnicking teens. "It's practically Spain," gushes a pensioner.

The newly reconstructed square is one piece of a sprawling campaign of blagoustroistvo, or urban improvement, spreading across Russia's cities and towns. The trend began in Moscow, where city authorities have rebuilt hundreds of streets and public spaces since 2011, transforming the centre into an unrecognisable pedestrian paradise paved with plitka, the project's distinctive tiles. Other World Cup host cities received more modest facelifts ahead of this summer's tournament. The results have pleased the Kremlin. Last month President Vladimir Putin made his first appearance at the Moscow Urban Forum, extolling the importance of "a comfortable, friendly city atmosphere". A broader national effort, launched in 2016-17, is gaining steam. Earlier this year Mr Putin directed the government to double spending on "comfortable city environment" projects. This state-mandated urbanism represents the "authoritarian modernisation" Mr Putin seeks. Yet it may also carry the seed of a more open future.

For the government, the attraction is evident. Visible results help demonstrate effectiveness and foster loyalty. Many in Moscow see blagoustroisrvo as a thinly-veiled ploy to placate the urban middle class who protested against fraudulent elections in 2011-12. Bureaucrats also see it as a means to stimulate a stagnant economy. Some 75% of Russians live in cities, many designed for an industrial Soviet-era economy. Improving public spaces attracts tourists and creates room for small business.

While the projects' financing remains modest-some 1% of regional spending outside Moscow, reckons Natalia Zubarevich, an expert on Russia's regions, its scope is vast. Leading the charge is kb Strelka, a consultancy backed by Alexander Mamut, an oligarch, and founded as an outgrowth of the liberal-minded Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design. After developing much of the Moscow blagoustroisrvo, Strelka has turned to the regions, where it is aiding 40 cities, accounting for roughly a fifth of Russia's population, as they carry out revivals of streets, parks, squares, embankments and other public spaces. It is also advising several hundred monogorods, or one-factory towns, on revitalisation plans, and writing new urban-design standards for the Construction Ministry.

The efforts have provoked critics nonetheless. In Moscow they have decried the exorbitant costs and the often brutal methods employed, such as the violent clearing of small kiosks. Accusations of corruption abound: rbc, a media organisation, has alleged that several contractors were linked to family members of the deputy mayor responsible for blagoustroisrvo. In smaller cities such as Voronezh, residents complain about incompetence. "Would you let your kids play in this playground?" one mother yells, pointing to a metal slide that empties inexplicably onto a small rubber landing surrounded by scrubland.

Yet the impact of blagoustroisrvo may take longer to manifest itself. Denis Leontyev, KB Strelka's co-founder, calls the consultancy "an institute of values", the key one being "human-centric" thinking. In a country long ruled by leaders who put the interests of the state and the collective ahead of the individual, that is an important shift. The question is whether blagoustroisrvo can help create more than just a European-looking facade.

The early results offer some reason for optimism. In areas with leaders willing to embrace more open communication-a group growing larger as a new generation of bureaucrats rises through the ranks-blagoustroistvo can become a space for fostering dialogue between the state and society. Take Palekh, a town of some 5,000 nestled in forests north-east of Moscow. Once a centre of Russian icon painting and later lacquer work, Palekh fell into disrepair after the Soviet collapse. Now with kb Strelka's guidance, the central square has become a bustle of activity, as bulldozers crunch dirt and workers lay new cables.

Change has to start somewhere

Town meeting halls, where the authorities have taken the unusual step of listening to residents, also play a part in Palekh. Public hearings have debated the merits of fountain shapes, road widths and foliage. "The fate of every tree was discussed," boasts Stanislav Voskresensky, one of a host of younger technocratic governors appointed in late 2017. The approach has shaken up the region's ossified ways. "More often than not, such hearings were formalities, a box that needed to be checked," says Igor Starkin, a veteran administrator who took over as the head of Palekh earlier this year. Now, he is a disciple of engagement: "Feedback creates a union of souls," he says. The authorities' new-found openness has stunned residents, too. For many, the blagoustroisrvo discussions were their first experience of civic activism. "There's always been lots of talk, but only among ourselves, never in public," says Olga Kolesova, the director of the local museum. "This is the first time they've given people a chance to say something."

It would be foolish to see blagoustroisrvo as a cure for Russia's repressive politics. Mr Putin will not loosen his grip on power because of a few new parks. "They don't want democracy, they want results and budgets," says Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist. Any civic activity, she notes, quickly "hits a ceiling" when it moves away from safe topics such as urbanism to challenge those in power directly. Yet it would be equally foolish to ignore the processes that blagoustroisrvoboth reflects and stimulates. Russians' creative energies may not have an outlet in politics, but they have not been stamped out. As Michal Murawski, an anthropologist from University College London who studies Putin-era urbanism, quips, "There is politics in every plitko." Sometimes a square is more than just a square. ■

Friday, August 17, 2018










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Monday, August 13, 2018



The black hole of coal
India shows how hard it is to move beyond fossil fuels towards a renewable future

DARKNESS is falling as coal starts its long, lawless journey from the pit. The first signs are the cycle-pushing foot-soldiers, such as Ravi Kumar, a 26-year-old whose yellow shirt and grey turban are as coal-smudged as his face and hands. Using his bike like a wheelbarrow, he strains uphill with his back bent, then coasts down with one sandalled foot on the pedal, the other scuffing the tarmac as a brake. The bike is laden with half-a-dozen sacks of coal, pilfered from a nearby mine.

There are hundreds of other small-time thieves like him, he says nervously, supplementing their income on a Sunday evening by fanning out to sell bike-loads of coal to owners of iron works and brick kilns, and tea brewers. Coal-fed braziers and stoves flicker by the side of the road, black smoke pouring out. An Indian Dickens would be scribbling furiously.

Then there are the coal lorries-the heavy artillery. They gather at the edge of a nearby village, 140 of them squeezed along the roadside, ready to trundle off for the nightlong journey to Hazaribagh, the biggest city in this part of Jharkhand state.

Across eastern India, which sits on the country's largest coal reserves, this ragtag army sets out at dusk to feed the furnaces, fill the railway wagons, and fuel the power stations that get India's economy moving.

It is the same across much of Asia, where coal consumption grew by 34% a year from 2006 to 2016, accounting for almost three-quarters of the world's demand for the most polluting fossil fuel.

Last year, just as Western banks and global development agencies were shunning coal projects on environmental grounds, India, the world's second-biggest burner after China, consumed an additional 27m tonnes, a rise of 4.8%. That led to the first increase in global coal consumption in four years, says bp, an oil company. Demand in China also picked up slightly, and there were big increases from Bangladesh and Pakistan to the Philippines and South Korea. Such is the supply and demand that prices for thermal coal, the type used for generating electricity, are at their highest since 2012, and have more than doubled in the past two years.

The environmental implications of this resurgence are deeply troubling. Asia accounts for more than half of the 9m pollution-related fatalities recorded in 2015, according to a recent study for the Lancet, a medical journal. India's 2.5m deaths is by far the biggest share. Coal is the main culprit. It is also a wrecker of the climate. Coal's comeback helps explain why 2017 was the first year in four that global emissions of carbon dioxide have risen, thwarting the planet-wide effort, accelerated by the Paris summit in 2015, to control climate change, BP notes that coal's share of global electricity generation—by far the largest source at 38% - has not shrunk in over 20 years, despite the rise of gas and renewable energy.

No country is likely to contribute more to the growth in energy demand over the next two decades than India, says the International Energy Agency (IEA), a global forecaster. When India submitted plans for climate-change actions at the Paris summit, it predicted that its electricity demand would triple between 2012 and 2030. If coal meets much of the growing appetite for power, as the iea expects it will, no country will contribute more to the rise in carbon emissions.

India has plans for alternative means of generating electricity. Even before the Paris summit, Narendra Modi, the prime minister, aimed to install 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable-energy capacity by 2022, a vast M increase from today. That has now risen 227GW. In the meantime, price of wind and solar power have tumbled. Recent auctions have left to a 50% drop in the cost of solar power in the past two years, to about three rupees ($0.05) per kilowatt hour, about the same as wind. This can make both sources cheaper than building new coal-fired Capacity. An excise tax on production and Imports makes coal ever less attractive. After a massive spree of building coal-fired power plants in recent years, investment slumped last year, while that in alternatives surged.

It is one thing to recognise the imperative for reducing coal in a country's energy mix. It is another to consider the ramifications of shifting from a cheap source of fuel native to India. A swing through coal country provides a sobering illustration of how hard it is to wean a country off fossil fuels. The first thing you notice, however obvious, is that coal is grimy. It cakes roadsides and blackens rivers and lungs with soot.

Although coal is horribly filthy, India is utterly dependent on it. It generates more than three-quarters of the country's electricity. Mining it and turning it into power accounts for a tenth of India's industrial production. It provides jobs as well as power. Coal India, a state-owned coal miner that is the world's largest, employs, at last count, 370,000 people, and there are up to 500,000 working in the coal industry at large. Far from reining in production, Coal India plans to increase it, from 560m tonnes in 2017 to lbn tonnes by 2020. The government's target for national production is 1.3bn-1.9bn tonnes by 2030.



In the line of fire
The world is losing the war against climate change

EARTH is smouldering. From Seattle to Siberia this summer, flames have consumed swathes of the northern hemisphere. One of 18 wildfires sweeping through California, among the worst in the state's history, is generating such heat that it created its own weather. Fires that raged through a coastal area near Athens last week killed 91 (see Science section). Elsewhere people are suffocating in the heat. Roughly 125 have died in Japan as the result of a heatwave that pushed temperatures in Tokyo above 40°C for the first time.

Such calamities, once considered freakish, are now commonplace. Scientists have long cautioned that, as the planet warms-it is roughly i°C hotter today than before the industrial age's first furnaces were lit-weather patterns will go berserk. An early analysis has found that this sweltering European summer would have been less than half as likely were it not for human-induced global warming.

Yet as the impact of climate change becomes more evident, so too does the scale of the challenge ahead. Three years after countries vowed in Paris to keep warming "well below" 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels, greenhouse-gas emissions are up again. So are investments in oil and gas. In 2017, for the first time in four years, demand for coal rose. Subsidies for renew-ables, such as wind and solar power, are dwindling in many places and investment has stalled; climate-friendly nuclear $ower is expensive and unpopular. It is tempting to think these are temporary setbacks and that mankind, with its instinct for self-preservation, will muddle through to a victory over global warming. In fact, it is losing the war.

Living in a fuel's paradise

Insufficient progress is not to say no progress at all. As solar panels, wind turbines and other low-carbon technologies become cheaper and more efficient, their use has surged. Last year the number of electric cars sold around the world passed im. In some sunny and blustery places renewable power now costs less than coal.

Public concern is picking up. A poll last year of 38 countries found that 61% of people see climate change as a big threat; . only the terrorists of Islamic State inspired more fear. In the West campaigning investors talk of divesting from companies that make their living from coal and oil. Despite President Donald Trump's decision to yank America out of the Paris deal, many American cities and states have reaffirmed their commitment to it. Even some of the sceptic-in-chief's fellow Republicans appear less averse to tackling the problem (see United States section). In smog-shrouded China and India, citizens choking on fumes are prompting governments to rethink plans to rely heavily on coal to electrify their countries.

Optimists say that decarbonisation is within reach. Yet, even allowing for the familiar complexities of agreeing on and enforcing global targets, it is proving extraordinarily difficult.

One reason is soaring energy demand, especially in devel-oping Asia. In 2006-16, as Asia's emerging economies forged ahead, their energy consumption rose by 40%. The use of coal, easily the dirtiest fossil fuel, grew at an annual rate of 34%. Use of cleaner natural gas grew by 5.2% and of oil by 2.9%. Fossil fuels are easier to hook up to today's grids than renewables that depend on the sun shining and the wind blowing. Even as green fund managers threaten to pull back from oil companies, state-owned behemoths in the Middle East and Russia see Asian demand as a compelling reason to invest.

The second reason is economic and political inertia. The more fossil fuels a country consumes, the harder it is to wean itself off them. Powerful lobbies, and the voters who back them, entrench coal in the energy mix. Reshaping existing ways of doing things can take years. In 2017 Britain enjoyed its first coal-free day since igniting the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. Coal generates not merely 80% of India's electricity, but also underpins the economies of some ofits poorest states (see Briefing). Panjandrums in Delhi are not keen to countenance the end of coal, lest that cripple the banking system, which lent it too much money, and the railways, which depend on it.

Last is the technical challenge of stripping carbon out of industries beyond power generation. Steel, cement, farming, transport and other forms of economic activity account for over half of global carbon emissions. They are technically harder to clean up than power generation and are protected by vested industrial interests. Successes can turn out to be illusory. Because China's un-plus electric cars draw their oomph from an electricity grid that draws two-thirds ofits power from coal, they produce more carbon dioxide than some fuel-efficient petrol-driven models. Meanwhile, scrubbing C02 from the atmosphere, which climate models imply is needed on a vast scale to meet the Paris target, attracts even less attention.

The world is not short of ideas to realise the Paris goal. Around 70 countries or regions, responsible for one-fifth of all emissions, now price carbon. Technologists beaver away on sturdier grids, zero-carbon steel, even carbon-negative cement, whose production absorbs more C02 than it releases. All these efforts and more-including research into "solar geoengineer-ing" to reflect sunlight back into space-should be redoubled.

Blood, sweat and geoengineers

Yet none of these fixes will come to much unless climate list-lessness is tackled head on. Western countries grew wealthy on a carbon-heavy diet of industrial development. They must honour their commitment in the Paris agreement to help poorer places both adapt to a warmer Earth and also abate future emissions without sacrificing the growth needed to leave poverty behind.

Averting climate change will come at a short-term financial cost-although the shift from carbon may eventually enrich the economy, as the move to carbon-burning cars, lorries and electricity did in the 20th century. Politicians have an essential role to play in making the case for reform and in ensuring that the most vulnerable do not bear the brunt of the change. Perhaps global warming will help them fire up the collective will. Sadly, the world looks poised to get a lot hotter first. ■











Wednesday, August 8, 2018













Thursday, August 2, 2018

HIKING.... for Depression and Anxiety


How Hiking Helps Anxiety and Depression

July 23, 2018
Anxiety and depression are incredibly common ailments of 21st Century humans. But while there are a number of different treatments for these illnesses (and you should always discuss your symptoms with your doctor and seek the treatment he or she recommends), too many people overlook one of the best: hiking.
Hiking is often very effective for easing anxiety and depression, and it is a treatment option that is accessible to the vast majority of people. In fact, there are a number of reasons hiking is such an excellent way to feel better, which we’ll outline below.

Exercise Promotes Brain Health

Hiking is a fantastic form of exercise that provides a variety of benefits for your body. It’ll help you lose weight while simultaneously strengthening your muscles. And if you keep at it for long enough, it’ll likely help lower your blood pressure and reduce your chances of suffering from strokes, diabetes or heart disease.
But while these benefits are all clearly valuable, exercise also helps to promote a healthy brain too. If your hikes are strenuous enough to elevate your heart rate and cause you to sweat a bit, they’ll likely help increase the size of your hippocampus – the portion of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning.
Exercise also causes the body to release growth factors – chemicals that help encourage blood vessel development in the brain and support the production of healthy brain cells. And don’t worry, you needn’t hike for very long to start enjoying improved brain health; research shows that even a 20-minute hike can improve the way your brain processes information.

Hiking Is Easy to Do and Affordable

Unlike so many other treatments for anxiety and depression, hiking is available to just about everyone, regardless of your location or tax bracket.
Most Americans probably live within a short drive of at least one hiking trail, even if it is nothing more than a 1-mile loop around the local park. You may have to do a bit of digging to find longer, more challenging or more scenic trails, but you’ll still likely find multiple options within driving distance.
Additionally, hiking rarely costs much – if anything – at all. Some trails require you to pay for parking or for entry to the park, but even these typically offer “frequent use” passes, which will allow you to enjoy the park or trails for very little money. You may also have to purchase a water bottle and pair of hiking boots, but with a bit of effort, you can likely find these things at very affordable prices.

Hiking Helps You to Disconnect from Day-to-Day Life

Chances are, you are constantly barraged by stimuli from the moment you wake up until the moment your head hits the pillow. Your phone, TV and radio constantly buzz with messages, information and entertainment, and you probably don’t have much time to quietly reflect on your thoughts.
But to get away from all of this, all you need to do is strap on your hiking boots and hit the trail. In contrast to our neighborhoods, homes and offices, wilderness areas are generally quiet and peaceful. This helps you to shed some of the stress caused by daily life. Disconnecting from your day-to-day life in this way can be very restorative and help reduce your anxiety and depression.
Obviously, you should still bring your phone along with you for safety’s sake, but maybe you should turn off the ringer for a while – at least until you get back to your car.

Hiking Provides Perspective

Often, anxiety and depression cause people to lose sight of the big picture. Instead of enjoying life, people struggling with depression or anxiety become stuck focusing on the small challenges, failures and disappointments that happen on a daily basis. But hiking in natural settings can help you bust out of this rut and gain a bit of perspective.
If, for example, you find yourself overwhelmed by a big work project coming up, you may find that a hike through your local mountains will help you remember that the project is just a tiny part of your life, and that there is a big beautiful world out there waiting for you to enjoy it.

Hiking Helps You to Build Resilience and Self-Confidence

If you hike for long enough, you’ll surely experience a tough day on the trail. Your feet may blister, you may get lost, or you may find that the trail you chose was a bit too strenuous. But chances are, you’ll find some way to tough out the hike, and overcome these challenges.
This will help build resilience and boost your self-confidence in profound ways. In truth, any challenge you face and overcome will help in both of these respects, but doing so in the natural world often provides the most profound results.
Just be sure that you don’t take this concept too far. It’s always good to challenge yourself and set increasingly difficult goals as you progress, but you must keep safety in mind. Always keep a cell phone on you so you can contact help if you need it and let someone know when you’ll be returning.

You Only Compete Against Yourself: There’s No Pressure to Perform

Many people understand the health benefits that exercise provides, but they aren’t interested in engaging in an implicitly or explicitly competitive pursuit, such as joining the local softball league or gym. This is certainly understandable – especially when you are already feeling depressed or anxious.
But hiking is a fantastic exercise, that lacks the competitive aspects that many of these other types of exercise feature. You are only competing against yourself and – to a lesser extent – Mother Nature. You get to celebrate those times you hike a bit further or complete a loop a bit faster; and yet your tough days, when you don’t perform quite as well, will remain your secret.
Additionally, it doesn’t matter if you go out and hike 1 mile a week or 50 miles a week – the only person you have to impress while you’re hiking is yourself.

Hiking Relieves Stress

Stress is often a contributing factor to anxiety and depression, so anything you can do to help relieve stress should help you feel a bit better. Hiking definitely fits this bill, as it not only provides great exercise (which helps to relieve stress too), but it takes place in gorgeous natural settings.
Scientists have even found that spending time in nature – even simply looking at nature – helps relieve stress and recharge your mind, body and soul. In fact, looking at a natural setting helps reduce pain and accelerate the healing process. And if you hike with a friend or loved one, you’ll often find this helps alleviate your stress even more thoroughly.
As you can see, hiking provides myriad benefits to those battling with anxiety or depression. So, find your closest trail and start trekking. Don’t forget to discuss your anxiety and depression with your doctor (and make sure you are healthy enough to begin hiking if you aren’t normally active), but you’ll likely find that regular hikes are exactly what the doctor ordered.