Good morning, Q-MHI readers!
The US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will be bad, but not that bad, for the rest of the planet. Every other country but Syria and Nicaragua is still committed to it, and the accord itself was pretty weak anyway. The global economy is decarbonizing on its own as renewables get cheaper. And climate-change mayhem is coming no matter what—it’s only a matter of degree(s).
For the US, however, pulling out of Paris may mark the beginning of the end.
China has the biggest renewables industry by far and is ahead of its target for bringing down its emissions and coal dependence. As fossil-fuel use further declines, Chinese firms will dominate the alternatives, while enjoying the most clout in setting global energy policies.
What’s at stake isn’t just opportunities in the cleantech industry (solar already employs more than twice as many Americans as coal). It’s a world in which China stands to become not only the biggest economy within a decade or so, but, eventually, an energy superpower. Its growing military muscle and wide-ranging global investments in infrastructure will add to its influence, and its pro-globalization (and now pro-climate) stance will even lend China a grudging moral authority with the world’s other rich nations.
This is an entirely new geopolitical order—one in which, unless Europe overcomes its splits, an opaque autocracy will be the chief agenda-setter. Because of its size and weapons, the US, like Russia, will never not be a superpower. But, like Russia, it is on its way to becoming a second-tier one.
China will take the throne. And Trump, for all his complaints about China’s ambitions, has just dusted off the cushions and invited it to have a seat.—Gideon Lichfield
FIVE THINGS ON Q-MHI WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
UK voters have a clear shot at “softening” Brexit. Prime minister Theresa May’s call for a “snap election” on June 8 gives Brexit opponents an opportunity she might not be expecting. Akshat Rathi and Christopher Groskopf analyzed the data, and created a tactical voting guide focusing on the issue that’s not on the ballot, but that voters care about most.
After years of frustration, Indian techies rise up. Indian engineers laid off by multinational IT firms are demanding fair treatment and transparency on the job. Sushma UN looks into what unionization in IT outsourcing could mean for the $150 billion industry.
Bank robberies = great economic case studies. Start with the built-in dilemma: Each minute a robber stays inside increases the haul—and also the chance of getting caught. The decision is so rational, Dan Kopf and Corinne Purtill find, that economists have a developed a mathematical formula for it.
Almost no one in China has email. Inbox zero is considerably easier when you never had an inbox to begin with. Josh Horwitz explores how the history of personal computing trends and the foresight of Chinese internet giant Tencent allowed the country to skip over email and go straight to chat.
The curious history of coffee culture. Italians take pride in their uniquely authentic espressos, and look down on Americans’ brashly sweet pumpkin-spice lattes. But, Cosimo Bizzari explains, each country has influenced the other—from the saloon-style “American bars” where Italians downed espressos in the early 20th century, to the continued popularity of the word “barista” in the US.
FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
What China really wants. President Xi Jinping set two ambitious goals in 2012: Doubling China’s 2010 per-capita GDP by 2021, and becoming a “fully developed, rich, and powerful” nation by 2049. Graham Allison notes in The Atlantic that China is on track to meet the first goal, and explores what China’s relationship with the West, and especially the US, will look like if he succeeds at the second.
Who voted for President Trump? Blue-collar factory workers supported Trump because of the loss of good manufacturing jobs. Or did they? Economics researcher Caroline Freund of the Peterson Institute finds that education and race were bigger factors. In counties where manufacturing was important, Hillary Clinton won when they were racially diverse. The identity of America, not US jobs, was what was truly at stake in the minds of Trump’s crucial swing voters.
The riches-to-rags story of a famed New York shopping strip. Bleecker Street was transformed from an ordinary avenue into one of the city’s premier luxury retail corridors, thanks largely to a pioneering cupcake shop and Sex and the City. Now stores are shuttering in droves and it has become a classic example of late-stage gentrification, as Steven Kurutz details in a story for the New York Times (paywall) on the dramatic rise and precipitous decline of the iconic street.
The moral universe of autism. Is a man who downloads child pornography a sex offender if he isn’t capable of understanding social taboos and relationships? Anat Rubin of The Marshall Project chronicles the growing concern in the US over men on the autistic spectrum who face lifetimes on sex-offender registries because of a theory of criminal intent that their advocates say doesn’t apply to them.
Rejoice in the failures of language. Words are slippery. For centuries, humans have sought objective ways to contain the messiness of language, and only succeeded in sucking the meaning right out of it. But that’s part of the adventure, writes Charlie Huenemann for Aeon. We might want to express ourselves perfectly, but imprecision gives words elasticity—which is exactly what allows us to invent “startling new ways of looking at the world.”