Starlink Gives Remote Tribes Voice, Information, and Fast Help in Emergencies

(p. 12) . . . Starlink, . . . has quickly dominated the satellite-internet market worldwide by providing service once unthinkable in . . . remote areas. SpaceX has done so by launching 6,000 low-orbiting Starlink satellites — roughly 60 percent of all active spacecraft — to deliver speeds faster than many home internet connections to just about anywhere on Earth, including the Sahara, the Mongolian grasslands and tiny Pacific islands.

Business is soaring. Mr. Musk recently announced that Starlink had surpassed three million customers across 99 countries. Analysts estimate that annual sales are up roughly 80 percent from last year, to about $6.6 billion.

. . .

. . . perhaps Starlink’s most transformative effect is in areas once largely out of the internet’s reach, like the Amazon. There are now 66,000 active contracts in the Brazilian Amazon, touching 93 percent of the region’s legal municipalities. That has opened new job and education opportunities for those who live in the forest. It has also given illegal loggers and miners in the Amazon a new tool to communicate and evade authorities.

One Marubo leader, Enoque Marubo (all Marubo use the same surname), 40, said he immediately saw Starlink’s potential. After spending years outside the forest, he said he believed the internet could give his people new autonomy. With it, they could communicate better, inform themselves and tell their own stories.

Last year, he and a Brazilian activist recorded a 50-second video seeking help getting Starlink from potential benefactors. He wore his traditional Marubo headdress and sat in the maloca. A toddler wearing a necklace of animal teeth sat nearby.

They sent it off. Days later, they heard back from a woman in Oklahoma.

. . .

Allyson Reneau’s LinkedIn page describes her as a space consultant, keynote speaker, author, pilot, equestrian, humanitarian, chief executive, board director and mother of 11 biological children. In person, she says she makes most of her money coaching gymnastics and renting houses near Norman, Okla.

. . .

Enoque was asking for 20 Starlink antennas, which would cost roughly $15,000, to transform life for his tribe.

. . .

[Allyson Reneau said] “One tool would change everything in their life. Health care, education, communication, protection of the forest.”

Ms. Reneau said she bought the antennas with her own money and donations from her children.

. . .

The internet was an immediate sensation.

. . .

They spend lots of time on WhatsApp. There, leaders coordinate between villages and alert the authorities to health issues and environmental destruction. Marubo teachers share lessons with students in different villages. And everyone is in much closer contact with faraway family and friends.

To Enoque, the biggest benefit has been in emergencies. A venomous snake bite can require swift rescue by helicopter. Before the internet, the Marubo used amateur radio, relaying a message between several villages to reach the authorities. The internet made such calls instantaneous. “It’s already saved lives,” he said.

For the full story see:

Jack Nicas and Victor Moriyama. “The Internet’s Final Frontier: Remote Amazon Tribes of Brazil.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, June 2, 2024): 1 & 12-13.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed words, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 21 [sic], 2024, and has the title “The Internet’s Final Frontier: Remote Amazon Tribes.”)

California Politicians Ban Test of Sprayed Seawater That Might Reverse Global Warming

Some environmentalists are only willing to cool the planet by the pain of less consumption.

(p. A14) Elected leaders in Alameda, Calif., voted early on Wednesday [June 5, 2024] to stop scientists from testing a device that might one day be used to artificially cool the planet, overruling city staff members who had found the experiment posed no danger.

. . .

The test involved spraying tiny sea-salt particles across the flight deck of a decommissioned aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Hornet, docked in Alameda in San Francisco Bay. Versions of that device could eventually be used to spray the material skyward, making clouds brighter so that they reflect more sunlight away from Earth. Scientists say that could help to cool the planet and to fight the effects of global warming.

. . .

“The chemical components of the saltwater solution (which is similar to seawater) being sprayed are naturally occurring in the environment,” the report said. Staff recommended that the City Council allow the experiment to continue, . . .

. . .

Some environmentalists oppose research aimed at so-called climate intervention, also known as solar geoengineering. They argue that such technology carries the risk of unintended consequences, and also takes money and attention away from efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels, the burning of which is the underlying cause of climate change.

For the full story see:

Soumya Karlamangla and Christopher Flavelle. “Leaders in California City Halt Cloud-Brightening Test.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 6, 2024): A14.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 5, 2024, and has the title “California City Leaders End Cloud-Brightening Test, Overruling Staff.”)

Europe’s Regulations Reduce Economic Dynamism

(p. A23) Growth and dynamism: In 1960 the E.U. 28 — the 27 countries currently in the European Union, plus Britain — accounted for 36.3 percent of global gross domestic product. By 2020 it had fallen to 22.4 percent. By the end of the century it is projected to fall to just under 10 percent. By contrast, the United States has maintained a roughly consistent share — around a quarter — of global G.D.P. since the Kennedy administration.

Think of any leading-edge industry — artificial intelligence, microchips, software, robotics, genomics — and ask yourself (with a few honorable exceptions), where’s the European Microsoft, Nvidia or OpenAI?

. . .

How much state protection, in social welfare and economic regulation, are Europe’s aging voters willing to forgo for the sake of creating a more dynamic economy for a dwindling number of young people?

For the full commentary, see:

Bret Stephens. “This D-Day, Europe Needs to Resolve to Get Its Act Together.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 5, 2024): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold font in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 4, 2024, and has the same title as the print version.)

Species Shifting Their Range Due to Climate Change May Have Enabled the “Playing Around With Resources” That Invented Farming

(p. D6) In the 1990s, archaeologists largely concluded that farming in the Fertile Crescent began in Jordan and Israel, a region known as the southern Levant. “The model was that everything started there, and then everything spread out from there, including maybe the people,” said Melinda A. Zeder, a senior research scientist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

But in recent years, Dr. Zeder and other archaeologists have overturned that consensus. Their research suggests that people were inventing farming at several sites in the Fertile Crescent at roughly the same time. In the Zagros Mountains of Iran, for example, Dr. Zeder and her colleagues have found evidence of the gradual domestication of wild goats over many centuries around 10,000 years ago.

People may have been cultivating plants earlier than believed, too.

In the 1980s, Dani Nadel, then at Hebrew University, and his colleagues excavated a 23,000-year-old site on the shores of the Sea of Galilee known as Ohalo II. It consisted of half a dozen brush huts. Last year, Dr. Nadel co-authored a study showing that one of the huts contained 150,000 charred seeds and fruits, including many types, such as almonds, grapes and olives, that would later become crops. A stone blade found at Ohalo II seemed to have been used as a sickle to harvest cereals. A stone slab was used to grind the seeds. It seems clear the inhabitants were cultivating wild plants long before farming was thought to have begun.

“We got fixated on the very few things we just happened to see preserved in the archaeological record, and we got this false impression that this was an abrupt change,” Dr. Zeder said. “Now we really understand there was this long period where they’re playing around with resources.”

Many scientists have suggested that humans turned to agriculture under duress. Perhaps the climate of the Near East grew harsh, or perhaps the hunter-gatherer population outstripped the supply of wild foods.

But “playing around with resources” is not the sort of thing people do in times of desperation. Instead, Dr. Zeder argues, agriculture came about as climatic changes shifted the ranges of some wild species of plants and animals into the Near East.

Many different groups began experimenting with ways of producing extra food, which eventually enabled them to start a new way of life: settling down in more stable social groups.

For the full story see:

Carl Zimmer. “The First Farmers.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 18, 2016 [sic]): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 17, 2016 [sic], and has the title “How the First Farmers Changed History.”)

The 2015 study co-authored by Dani Nadel and mentioned above is:

Snir, Ainit, Dani Nadel, Iris Groman-Yaroslavski, Yoel Melamed, Marcelo Sternberg, Ofer Bar-Yosef, and Ehud Weiss. “The Origin of Cultivation and Proto-Weeds, Long before Neolithic Farming.” PLOS ONE 10, no. 7 (July 22, 2015): e0131422.

As Freedom Left Hong Kong, So Did Hundreds of Billions of Dollars and 100,000 Citizens

(p. B1) This summer, when Hong Kong’s stock market rout seemed to have no end in sight, the city’s financial chief, Paul Chan, jumped into action, creating a task force to inject confidence into a market that was being pummeled by global investors wary of China.

Hong Kong cut taxes on trading, and Mr. Chan went on a roadshow to Europe and the United States, promising measures to “let investors feel optimistic about the outlook.” Investors were anything but sanguine, however, and the city’s stock exchange is among the world’s worst-performing stock markets this year.

. . .

Hundreds of billions of dollars flowed out this year as money managers and pension funds reduced their holdings in Hong Kong, which has long been a gateway for foreign investors wanting to put money into mainland China. The outflows were largely driven by an economic downturn in China and mounting pressure on American investors to sell their (p. B3) exposure to Chinese companies.

. . .

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 with a pledge that it would maintain a high degree of self-governance under a policy called “one country, two systems.” For two decades, this allowed Hong Kong to define itself as unique and distinct from the rest of China, while offering financial access to the world’s second largest economy.

But after citywide protests in 2019, Beijing imposed the national security law, which has silenced political debate and stifled civic activity.

More than 100,000 residents have left Hong Kong over the last few years, in part because of the security law and tough pandemic restrictions. Many young Hong Kong professionals who are still there have expressed a desire to leave, making it a challenge to recruit the talent that has helped the city function as a financial center.

Once a major hub for Wall Street banks, Hong Kong had a drought of initial public offerings this year. Companies raised the lowest amount of money since 2001, resulting in layoffs at financial institutions citywide.

Many international companies have stopped hiring for new positions in Hong Kong. With less money coming into the exchange and fewer transactions, dozens of brokerages have also closed.

For the full story, see:

Alexandra Stevenson. “Hong Kong Stock Market Ends in Loss For 4th Year.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 30, 2023): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 29, 2023, and has the title “Hong Kong Stocks Plunge to Losses for 4th Straight Year.”)

Communist China’s Restriction of Citizens’ Freedom Shows Its “Fragility”

(p. A8) HONG KONG—Prominent Pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow said she was exiling herself in Canada after getting her passport back from police in return for taking a patriotic trip to China, an exchange that sheds light on Hong Kong’s efforts to re-educate political opponents.

. . .

When Chow returned to Hong Kong, she said, she was instructed to write a letter thanking the police for the trip and enabling her to understand the great development of the motherland.

. . .

“I have never denied China’s economic development,” Chow wrote on Instagram. “But how can such a powerful country send people who fight for democracy to prison, restrict their freedom of movement, and even require them to go to mainland China and visit patriotic exhibitions in exchange for their passports? Is this not a kind of fragility.”

For the full story, see:

Elaine Yu. “Activist Flees Hong Kong After China Trip.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 5, 2023): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 4, 2023, and has the title “Activist Flees Hong Kong After Re-Education Trip to China.”)

Taxpayer-Financed Transfer Payments Reduced Childhood Poverty 59% in 30 Years from 1993 to 2023

(p. A1) WASHINGTON — For a generation or more, America’s high levels of child poverty set it apart from other rich nations, leaving millions of young people lacking support as basic as food and shelter amid mounting evidence that early hardship leaves children poorer, sicker and less educated as adults.

But with little public notice and accelerating speed, America’s children have become much less poor.

A comprehensive new analysis shows that child poverty has fallen 59 percent since 1993, with need receding on nearly every front. Child poverty has fallen in every state, and it has fallen by about the same degree among children who are white, Black, Hispanic and Asian, living with one parent or two, and in native or immigrant households. Deep poverty, a form of especially severe deprivation, has fallen nearly as much.

In 1993, nearly 28 percent of children were poor, meaning their households lacked the income the government deemed necessary to meet basic needs. By 2019, before temporary pandemic aid drove it even lower, child poverty had fallen to about 11 percent.

More than eight million children remained in poverty, and despite shared progress, Black and Latino children are about three times as likely as white children to be poor. With the poverty line low (about $29,000 for a family of four in a place with typical living costs), many families who escape poverty in the statistical sense still experience hardship.

Still, the sharp retreat of child poverty represents major progress and has drawn surprisingly little notice, even among policy experts.

For the full story, see:

Jason DeParle and Maddie McGarvey. “A Quiet, Dramatic Blow to Childhood Poverty.” The New York Times (Monday, September 12, 2022): A1 & A16-A17.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 11, 2022, and has the title “Expanded Safety Net Drives Sharp Drop in Child Poverty.”)

Communists Renege on “Implicit Bargain” to Give Chinese “Stability and Comfort” in Exchange for Lost Freedom

(p. 1) After violently crushing pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Beijing struck an implicit bargain: In exchange for limitations on political freedoms, the (p. 9) people would get stability and comfort.

But now the stability and comfort have dwindled, even as the limitations have grown.

. . .

Atop a hill in Shenzhen’s Lianhuashan Park stands a 20-foot bronze statue of Deng Xiaoping. Mr. Deng, the leader who pioneered China’s embrace of market forces after Mao’s death, watches over the city that is a living reminder of the country’s ability to change direction. Mr. Deng is shown in midstride, to honor his credo that opening should only accelerate.

Chen Chengzhi, 80, a retired government cadre who hikes to that statue every day for exercise, credits Mr. Deng with changing his life. Mr. Chen moved to Shenzhen in the 1980s, soon after Mr. Deng allowed economic experimentation here. The city then had just a few hundred thousand people, but Mr. Chen, who had endured famine and the Cultural Revolution, believed in Mr. Deng’s vision.

“At the end of the day, all good things in China are related to Shenzhen,” Mr. Chen said on one of his daily walks, adding that he cheered when China’s premier, Li Keqiang, visited the statue in August and pledged that China would continue opening to the world.

If it doesn’t do so, Mr. Chen said, “China will hit a dead end.”

But Mr. Li is retiring, even as the Xi Jinping era of rising state control stretches on.

For now, Mr. Chen continues climbing the hill — looking over the city that he helped build, that he believes in still.

For the full story, see:

Vivian Wang. “Covid Crackdowns Shake Chinese People’s Faith in Progress.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 4, 2022): 1 & 9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story also has the date December 4, 2022, and has the title “The Chinese Dream, Denied.” The online version says that the title of the print version was “Beijing’s Bargain With Its People Is Shaken” but my National Edition of the print version had the title “Covid Crackdowns Shake Chinese People’s Faith in Progress.”)

Xi’s Communist Assertion of Control of Private Firms Dulls the Entrepreneurial Innovation and “Unbridled Energy That Powered China’s Explosive Growth”

(p. A3) Just a few weeks later, Mr. Xi personally intervened to block the $34 billion initial public offering of one of China’s biggest private firms, Ant Group, partly out of concerns it was too focused on its own profits rather than the state’s goal of controlling financial risk.

The message isn’t lost on entrepreneurs, who are reorienting their businesses to appease the state or giving up on private enterprise altogether.

“For us small businesses, we have no choice but to follow the party,” says Li Jun, a 50-year-old owner of a fish-farming business in the eastern Jiangsu province. “Even so, we’re not benefiting at all from government policies.”

Mr. Li recently closed down a seafood-processing plant because it couldn’t get bank loans—a persistent problem for private firms, despite Beijing’s repeated pledges to make credit more available for them.

The risk for China is that Mr. Xi’s vigorous assertion of statist prerogatives will dull the kind of innovation, competitive spirit and unbridled energy that powered China’s explosive growth in recent decades. The economic policies that helped nurture e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., tech conglomerate Tencent Holdings Ltd. and other global success stories seem to be at an end, say economists inside and outside China. As a result, they say, Chinese companies are becoming less like American ones, which are driven by market forces and depend on private innovation and consumption.

. . .

In one of the clearest signs of China’s direction, more state firms are gobbling up private companies, redefining a government initiative called “mixed-ownership reform.” The original idea, dating back to the late 1990s, was to encourage private capital to invest in state firms, bringing more private-sector acumen to China’s often-bloated state-owned enterprises.

Now, under Mr. Xi, the process often works the other way around, with big state companies absorbing smaller ones to keep them going, and reconfiguring the smaller firms’ strategies to serve the state.

For the full story, see:

Lingling Wei. “Xi Ramps Up Control of China’s Private Sector.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Dec. 11, 2020): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 10, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

If Regulators Allow, Improved Photosynthesis Can Feed More of the Poor Using Less Land

(p. A13) For decades, scientists have pursued a tantalizing possibility for bolstering food supplies and easing hunger for the world’s poorest: improving photosynthesis, the biological process in plants that sustains nearly all life on Earth.

Now, researchers say that by using genetic modifications to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, they significantly increased yields in a food crop, soybeans, providing a glimmer of potential that such methods could someday put more food on tables as climate change and other threats make it harder for vulnerable populations across the globe to feed their families.

. . .  Their methods will also have to pass muster with government regulators before crops transformed this way will ever reach farmers’ fields.

. . .

Without major changes to agriculture, governments’ targets for mitigating climate change are at risk, scientists warn. Yet addressing malnutrition and hunger in the short term might require pressing more land and other resources into service, which could accentuate warming.

That is why scientific advancements that could help us produce more nourishment without using more land, whether by improving photosynthesis or otherwise, hold such promise.

. . .

The new research in Illinois focuses on “non-photochemical quenching,” a mechanism in plants that protects them from sun damage. When plants are in bright sunlight, they often receive more light energy than they can use for photosynthesis. This mechanism helps them shed the excess energy harmlessly as heat. But after the plant is shaded again, it doesn’t stop very quickly, which means the plant wastes precious time and energy that could be put toward producing carbohydrates.

The researchers’ genetic transformations help plants adjust more quickly to shade. In multilayered plants like rice, wheat, maize and soy, this extra nimbleness could theoretically increase photosynthesis in the middle layers of leaves, which are constantly flitting between sunlight and shadow during the day.

For the full story, see:

Raymond Zhong and Clare Toeniskoetter. “Researchers Alter Genes To Refine Photosynthesis And Improve Crop’s Yield.” The New York Times (Friday, August 19, 2022): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 18, 2022, and has the title “Scientists Boost Crop Performance by Engineering a Better Leaf.”)

Exponential Growth Is Not Inevitable and Has Seldom Occurred Outside of Computer Chips

(p. C5) Nothing has affected, and warped, modern thinking about the pace of technological invention more than the rapid exponential advances of solid-state electronics. The conviction that we have left the age of gradual growth behind began with our ability to crowd ever more components onto a silicon wafer, a process captured by Gordon Moore’s now-famous law that initially ordained a doubling every 18 months, later adjusted to about two years.

. . .

Bestselling tech prophets like Ray Kurzweil and Yuval Noah Harari argue that exponential growth will allow us to disrupt our way into a future devoid of disease and misery and abounding in material riches.

. . .

The problem is that the post-1970 ascent of electronic architecture and performance has no counterpart in other aspects of our lives. Exponential growth has not taken place in the fundamental economic activities on which modern civilization depends for its survival—agriculture, energy production, transportation and large engineering projects. Nor do we see rapid improvements in areas that directly affect health and quality of life, such as new drug discoveries and gains in longevity.

. . .

The conclusion that progress is not accelerating in the most fundamental human activities is supported by a paper published in 2020 by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The authors, four American economists led by Bryan Kelly of the Yale School of Management, studied innovation across American industries from 1840 to 2010, using textual analysis of patent documents to construct indexes of long-term change. They found that the wave of breakthrough patents in furniture, textiles, apparel, transportation, metal, wood, paper, printing and construction all peaked before 1900. Mining, coal, petroleum, electrical equipment, rubber and plastics had their innovative peaks before 1950. The only industrial sectors with post-1970 peaks have been agriculture (dominated by genetically modified organisms), medical equipment and, of course, computers and electronics.

For the full essay, see:

Vaclav Smil. “Tech Progress Is Slowing Down.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date February 16, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

The essay quoted above is adapted from Smil’s book:

Smil, Vaclav. Invention and Innovation: A Brief History of Hype and Failure. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2023.