The Berlin Wall marked a negative time in recent history in which two sides couldn’t communicate well and severed a country, and families, in two. During the Cold War people risked their lives tring to escape to West Germany from the oppressive East. The tearing down of the wall was a true turning point in modern history and it’s great to celebrate years of peace in Germany since its collapse.
As always, the Berlin Wall represents the inability to have meaningful conversations within our civilization. Let’s hope that no more walls between peoples get built.
The recoherence of Berlin over that later period is a testament to how far the country has come. Differences between the old east and west halves remain, some subtle (in the east street lights are yellow and the traffic-light man wears a hat, in the west they are white and he is bare-headed) and others more fundamental (Ossis support Union and are more likely to vote for the political extremes, Wessis cheer on Hertha Berlin and tend to vote centrist). But generally, to quote Brandt, “what belongs together grows together”. Central Berlin has been rebuilt, new east-west transport arteries like the cathedral-like Hauptbahnhof are open and others are under construction. Peter Schneider, a veteran chronicler of the city, writes: “The fall of the Wall and the reunification of Berlin’s two halves have sped up the city’s pulse, injecting new life energy. It’s as if the city had won back a temporal dimension that, during the years of the Wall, seemed to have disappeared from West Berlin and was merely alleged to exist in East Berlin: the future”.
To be sure, the past is visible too. Berlin epitomises the German knack for sensitively accommodating the scars of history. Parts of the wall have been preserved as memorials and much of the route is now traced by cobble stones which disappear under buildings built in the old death strip—The Economist’s premises in Berlin among them—and re-emerge on the other side. In a plot once bordered by the wall a block from the Reichstag, to which the Bundestag moved from Bonn in 1999, sits the Holocaust memorial, an undulating 5-acre sea of tombstone-like concrete slabs. When, last month, a local historian discovered a forgotten stretch of the wall in the woods by a suburban train line, it was a rare sight: an unarchived, uncurated piece of the city’s 20th century traumas.
Economic influencers and generally super-rich have occupied Davos, Switzerland this week to discuss how to get wealthier. They also discuss global issues that impact more than just their own wealth. Unsurprisingly interest in climate change and inequality during the Davos meeting increases every year. This year the host of the event, the World Economic Forum (WEF), presented an alternative to the stale measurement of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to assess how well countries are performing. They call it the inclusive development index which takes into consideration income inequality.
The WEF proposes a measure of its own, dubbed the “inclusive development index.” While it takes into account growth, as measured using GDP per capita, employment, and productivity, it also incorporates several other metrics, including gauges of poverty, life expectancy, public debt, median income, wealth inequality and carbon intensity. The index also considers investments in human capital, the depletion of natural resources, and damage caused by pollution.
This is the second year WEF has published the Inclusive Development Index, and the second time Norway has topped the list for advanced economies, scoring highly on all indicators except wealth inequality. Norway’s high rankings on everything from median income and public debt to pollution, suggest that it will be difficult to fulfill Donald Trump’s desire to entice more Norwegians away from their homeland to the US, which ranked 23rd.
One of the most influential international economic is calling for a bigger push to combat climate change. The Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Angel Gurría, gave a talk this week (above) advocating for greater international effort to reach a sustainable economy in regards to the environment. He argued that we need to think beyond national policy agendas in order to curb global emissions and reduce climate risks.
It’s fantastic to see a conservative organization like the OECD openly calling for nations around the world to get one board with an economy that doesn’t kill the planet.
Mr Gurria said the risks of stranded communities as well as of stranded assets would increase if policy action was delayed. While rapid advances in technology would continue to drive the transformation, he said, “the pace and scale of the transformation required to meet the Paris goals cannot be achieved without the positive feedbacks between strong government policies and the transformative potential of non-state actors.”
Mr Gurrria said economic conditions in many countries provide a window of opportunity to take action now to boost growth and investment that will drive the transition to a prosperous and inclusive low-emissions, resilient future. Ambitious climate policy is simply good policy, he said, adding that: “Governments should move faster to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, which still amount to around half a trillion dollars a year”.
Nuclear weapons are an existential threat to humanity. If they are used in violence it is likely that the planet would enter a period of nuclear winter – meaning that if you don’t die in the initial waves of explosions you’ll die from starvation. Not a good thing to think about.
Thankfully, yesterday 122 members of the United Nations signed a treaty committing them to a ban on nukes. Countries like the USA, France, and other nuke-loving countries didn’t sign it, still it sends a clear message: the rest of the world doesn’t want anybody to use nuclear weapons. The timing of the signing is quite symbolic given what Trump said during his speech at the UN earlier this week.
“The Treaty is an important step towards the universally-held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. It is my hope that it will reinvigorate global efforts to achieve it,” he added, acknowledging the contributions made by civil society and the hibakusha – the atomic bomb survivors.
At the same time, Mr. Guterres, highlighted the difficult road ahead by recalling that there remain some 15,000 nuclear weapons in existence. “We cannot allow these doomsday weapons to endanger our world and our children’s future,” he said.
Geothermal energy is very simple in principal: drill a hole into the hot earth and use the naturally occurring heat to get turbines spinning. In practice it can be very hard. To bridge the practical difficulties getting geothermal around the world running leaders behind the technology are gathered in Florence to discuss ways to accelerate adoption. They are in the process of creating a framework to share knowledge and expertise to ensure that this form of renewable energy gets used in more places.
From their press release:
Minister of Environment, Mr. Gian Luca Galletti stated: “Italy considers the Paris Agreement to be irreversible and non-negotiable and therefore strives to promote geothermal and other renewable energy sources as a vital component for the planet’s sustainable development.”
“Geothermal’s vast potential is currently untapped,” he continued. “We must develop new technologies and encourage new investments to ensure we cover this gap. The Alliance will multiply its efforts to guide this process, and Italy will provide its contribution with its long experience and know-how.”
Ms. Teresa Bellanova, Italy’s Vice Minister of Economy and Development, said: “Geothermal energy’s consistent and continuous availability make it a highly precious source of renewable energy both in Italy and many countries all over the world. Through our knowledge of the industry, Italy can play an important role in achieving the ambitions of the Paris Agreement, in addition to stimulating sustainable job creation.”
Director General of IRENA, Mr. Adnan. Z. Amin, said: “This meeting has, without question, allowed both the policy and industry communities to identify common ground in the pursuit of what is a renewable energy source with tremendous potential.
“If we can identify and implement mechanisms that deliver a greater level of certainty to investors and developers, then we will move beyond meaningful dialogue to decisive action that accelerates geothermal production,” continued Mr. Amin, “contributing significantly to decarbonisation of the global economy, whilst creating jobs and supporting growth around the world.”