Is climate change to blame for Fort McMurray’s wildfires?

The wildfires raging through the oil sands region of Alberta - forcing 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray to flee - have been shocking in their destruction. Many scientists see the hand of climate change in fanning the flames that have destroyed a major oil town but making this connection - the so-called black irony - has been considered insensitive given Alberta’s key role in oil extraction. However in this New Yorker essay, Elizabeth Kolbert argues differently. She writes: “Though it’s tough to pin any particular disaster on climate change, in the case of Fort McMurray the link is pretty compelling,” adding: “We are all consumers of oil, not to mention coal and natural gas, which means that we’ve all contributed to the latest inferno. We need to own up to our responsibility, and then we need to do something about it. The fire next time is one that we’ve been warned about, and that we’ve all had a hand in starting.”

Tax havens - what are they good for?

That’s the question more than 300 economists have been pondering and they have an answer - absolutely nothing, at least economically speaking. Of course plenty of individuals and companies benefit from reducing and avoiding tax by using these offshore havens but their gain comes at the expense of the rest of society. At a London summit this week, 47 leading economists, have signed a letter “which argues that tax evasion weakens both developed and developing economies, as well as driving inequality,” the Guardian reports. 

The UK government considers a microbead ban

Faced with a growing global concern over the effect of microbeads on marine life, the UK government is considering banning the use of these plastic additives in shower gels and facial scrubs, the BBC reports. “Microbeads are so tiny they slip through water treatment works and enter the ocean, where they are ingested by fish and other creatures,” it writes. The US, along with other nations, have already banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics. The UK is prepared to do the same if the EU fails to take action first.  

Electronics’ not so idle mode

Up to 50 electronic devices and appliances in your house are always drawing power, even when they appear to be off. That’s the estimate of one esteemed scientist and all that power use adds up, as The New York Times reports. “About a quarter of all residential energy consumption is used on devices in idle power mode, according to a study of Northern California by the Natural Resources Defense Council,” the NYT writes. That translates into 50 large power plants’ worth of electricity costing consumers more than $19 billion in electricity bills. 

Embracing the dumb phone

Are you fed up of smart phones ruling your life - a constant barrage of bleeps and tweets harassing you wherever your go (or drive). Then maybe it’s time to join the 24 million Americans estimated to have bought low-tech mobile phones in the last year. These “dumb phones” as the Wall Street Journal describes them put simplicity first. Sure you can’t use Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram but they do function pretty well…as a phone.

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