Learning by Proxy | COVID Leadership

More than all the world leaders and the Paris accord, COVID has delivered the true solution to the climate crisis; Theatres are hit and accepting any terms; Find out how the mRNA vaccine works!

While climate change has been a topic of intense conversation, no world leader would have come anywhere close to forcing the kind of change that COVID has done. So it would be fair to say, COVID has shown better climate leadership that any human has. It also makes you wonder if nature knows how to protect itself. Snuff out the virus called Humans.

It is also causing industries to alter in unthinkable ways and the theatre business will never be the same again.

COVID a gift to the Climate

2020 started with a lockdown in China because of the widespread infection. China shuts down towards the end of January every year to celebrate the Chinese new year which usually occurs towards the first week of February. They extended their factory shut-down beyond the new year to ensure that people do not return to work and the virus can be controlled. And thus began the process of reducing global pollution this year.

If on the one hand, human activity led emissions have come down, on the other hand, 8.2 million acres of forest land was burnt in unprecedented fires across Western America. According to Wikipedia, this also destroyed 13887 building. That fire season has still not officially ended. Gusts of wind continue to blow this week and utility companies are still considering leaving Californians in the dark over the weekend to avoid fire.

Australian bushfires burnt through another 27.2 Million acres at the beginning of this year. A vast amount of it during the Australian summer from Nov 19 - Feb 20. This BBC report has some incredible analysis.

SpainFrance and Russia also saw thousands of acres burnt as a result of wildfires. The hills of Uttarakhand were ablaze in may in India and hundreds of acres of forest burned. 

Since we are on the subject of fires…

The fire broke out at the Ghazipur landfill site Tuesday night. Fire officials said cooling operations are on to control air pollution. A fire broke out at the Ghazipur landfill site Tuesday night, burning for almost 24 hours before firefighters could bring in under control. This comes even as the capital’s air quality worsened to severe on Wednesday.

[…]

According to a senior fire official, a part of the landfill was gutted at night and the fire soon spread to other parts but there was no damage to life or property. “Since the fire and smoke caused damage to the environment and health, a case has been registered against unknown persons to investigate the cause behind it,” said a senior police officer.

Source: Times of India

I mention all the fires because they put a lot of carbon emission back in the atmosphere. The Earth has become so warm that it is just burning up!

On the flip side, human contribution to climate change was reduced; substantially. Between March and July, several countries across the world were in partial or total lockdown. This included a lack of activity in industries that meant far lower contribution of green-house gases. Road transport was arrested completely in almost every part of the world for close to a month. Air travel took a nosedive. The move to telecommuting and video-conferences has also meant a huge drop in travel across the board reducing emission. 

People went back to cooking. This meant fewer things were eaten out of a packet. The packet did not have to be produced. The factory that put whatever it was into the packet did not produce as much and all in all, this reduced the carbon footprint. 

The fear of the virus meant that non-veg consumption went down across the world but more specifically in America. This led to a decline in cattle farming and therefore fewer methane farts!

Several circus shows such as Davos WEF were not put up, this meant we did not fly thousands of jets across the world so that a 2 days event could be held.

Also, it seems people are starting to re-use. The average cotton shirt we wear takes in about 1000 Litres of water to go from fibre to shirt. Once used, clothes are thrown away into landfills not because it cannot be worn but because it is old or out of fashion. 

A massive force is reshaping the fashion industry: secondhand clothing. According to a new report, the US secondhand clothing market is projected to more than triple in value in the next 10 years—from US$28 billion in 2019 to US$80 billion in 2029—in a US market currently worth $379 billion. In 2019, secondhand clothing expanded 21 times faster than conventional apparel retail did.

[…]

Less than 1% of materials used to make clothing are currently recycled to make new clothing, a $500 billion annual loss for the fashion industry. The textile industry produces more carbon emissions than the airline and maritime industries combined. And approximately 20% of water pollution across the globe is the result of wastewater from the production and finishing of textiles.

[…]

Our latest research supports this possibility. We interviewed young American women who regularly use digital platforms like Poshmark. They saw secondhand clothing as a way to access both cheap goods and ones they ordinarily could not afford. They did not see it as an alternative model of consumption or a way to decrease dependence on new clothing production.

Source: Quartz

Other under-currents can be witnessed.

EIA projected total US power demand will drop to 3,716 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2020 from 3,896 billion kWh in 2019 before rising to 3,753 billion kWh in 2021.

That compares with an all-time high of 4,003 billion kWh in 2018, according to federal data going back to 1949.

Source: Economic Times

First of all, it shows that electricity consumption has been declining since 2018 as it is. Let me just put that decline in perspective. America is expected to consume 3716 billion kWh of energy this year. If you do the maths, it amounts to a mere 3% decline. Nepal has an installed capacity of 733 MW which produces about 650 million kWh of electricity. The decline noted for America in 2020 alone can power Nepal more than twice over!

As of late summer, governments around the world had pledged $12.2 trillion of relief in response to the coronavirus pandemic. That’s around 15% of global GDP, three times larger than government spending put forward during and after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and enough for every adult in the world to receive a $2,000 check.

[…]

Thus, taking into account the $1.1 trillion per year baked into the system already, the additional amount of clean energy investment needed to get on a 1.5°C track comes to just $0.3 trillion—or $300 billion—per year over the next five years.

[…]

Public funding appears to be available—for now—and given how massive this funding is, it provides a unique opportunity to catalyze the development, deployment, and dissemination of clean technologies during the next decade, an absolutely critical period in the fight against climate change.

Source: Quartz

To overcome the pandemic, every central bank has been printing money. This money can be put to use to re-focus economies in the right direction. Whether that is done or not will have to be seen.

The rural disruption that COVID has brought upon us has allowed us space and time to rethink. More important it has robbed the system of the inertia it had. It has upended a lot of existing practices and offers us an opportunity to pursue things differently. To use this as a point of inflexion and move towards sustainability. Obviously, there are several vested interests and the livelihoods of many at stake. It is rather easy to sit back and pontificate without having to figure out the practical challenges that this poses. Nevertheless, it is an opportunity.

Worst Hit

Movie theatres are usually mentioned when super-hit movies are released. This year, they have only been mentioned for the hit that they have taken in terms of business. Also, struggling to stay alive, producers have moved to Over The Top (OTT) services for the release for their movies. This would have been unthinkable blasphemy 11 months ago, no longer. 

The release of movies used to follow ‘Windowing’ to maximise returns. Windowing refers to the different window of release. The first 60-90 days went to theatres; then to television/OTT and then finally to CDs or Online purchase. Releasing them in these windows allowed each player to maximise the returns they got from the product.

Windowing be damned.

In another sign pointing toward where Hollywood is headed, Universal Pictures agreed to a deal with Cinemark—the second-biggest movie theatre chain in the US—to drastically shorten the time a film plays exclusively in theatres before it can be watched at home. The deal comes four months after Universal struck a similarly historic pact with AMC Theatres, the world’s largest cinema chain.

Under the agreement, all Universal films will play in Cinemark theatres for a minimum of 17 days (or three weekends) before the studio has the option to release some as digital rentals. After 17 days, a film’s shelf life in theatres—and its availability on-demand—will depend on its opening-weekend box-office totals.

Source: Quartz

Wonder Woman 1984, part of the DC Comics universe will release on HBO Max simultaneously. They don’t want to lose out of Christmas revenue just to keep the theatre chains happy. 

I heard the CMO of Asian paints a while back and he said our biggest problem is that we have no data about our customer. We have to just plan based on what the shopkeepers and distributors tell us. This was the same problem that production companies faced. The theatres owned the customers. Times Warner, Disney, and several other production houses are rolling out their streaming services, they can own their customers.

Some people still go to arcades to play video-games, but most people just buy a console and bring it home. It seems like theatres are headed that way. Theatres will have to work hard on improving the experience of the customer going forward if they want to stay relevant.

Digital Hit

Last week the Indian government made a very important change to the FDI policy as per the new policy, digital news media companies were brought under the FDI cap of 26%. This has been a sector that has had no regulation till now. 

The imposition of a 26 per cent limit on foreign direct investment in the digital media sector can hamper its growth potential, be a disincentive to incorporating companies in India, and lead to an unfair advantage for global players, said digital news companies and experts.

Source: Hindu Business Line

Media is playing a huge role in shaping the opinions of people and traditional new media has always had this limit. Given the importance of digital news media, it is only natural to extend this. I did not expect the repercussions to be this swift!

HuffPost India, the Indian web publication of the US-based digital media company, HuffPost, shut down on Tuesday after six years of operation, leaving the 12 journalists who worked there out of a job.

The closure is the first direct impact the Modi government’s new policy limiting foreign investment in digital media publications has had on the Indian media landscape. Under an official notification, FDI in digital media has been capped at 26% of equity. Media ventures with FDI beyond the limit have a year to disinvest. Until recently, there was no limit.

Source: The Wire

India = Google Lab

American companies are known for launching their latest products and features in the US before bringing it to the rest of the world. But for one company, that market has been fast seeing a shift. Google launched Android Pay, back in 2015, don’t be surprised if you have not heard of it, just a reflection of the disaster that it was. It was relaunched as Google pay in America and India in 2018.

Google Pay is already big in India with several thousand users. It uses the UPI system for money transfers, which is possible by providing the UPI code in the apps. One can scan the QR code as well and pay accordingly, besides using the usual method of sending it via by searching him/her in the contacts.

However, now the search giant is expanding the reach of its Pay service to new countries. This time it has brought Google Pay to 23 new countries and 24 new banks, as mentioned by Google in its dedicated page and reported by Android Police.

Source: Hindustan Times

Google has pushed its ad business to the limit and they are probably beginning to realise that they need to diversify. Especially with Anti-trust cases moving forward against them in the US. Also, the European Union starting to question many of their business practices. The French government has made Google agree to pay a portion of their ad revenue to French news publications since they populate their results with news links. The days of easy ad revenues are numbered. 

They are now coming with a new retail offering in India.

Tech giant Google is making a foray into airport retail with a tie-up with travel industry engagement platform Airbuy to make its services available across six airports in India.

Flyers can now use Google Pay at Airbuy app to book lounges and F&B. 

Founded in 2019 by a group of classmates at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Airbuy aims to increase airport revenues and enhance the overall passenger’s shopping experience through advanced Machine Learning capabilities.

Source: Inc42

They have money. They just need to find new areas where they can deploy their products and leverage data. India seems to be the most benign policy landscape and hence the company is beginning to experiment in India and use the country as a lab to fine-tune their products before releasing it to the rest of the world.

This might also mean, many more jobs getting shipped to India!

mRNA

mRNA stands for Messenger RNA which is a single strand of the molecule of RNA that corresponds to the genetic sequence of a gene. It is read by the ribosome during protein synthesis. In layman terms, if you have seen a DNA helix, mRNA is like one side of the DNA helix. Since it is one-sided, it results in the development of the other half called the tRNA (transfer RNA) which is read by the Ribosome to produce the protein. 

The COVID vaccine by Pfizer and Moderna have announced use this technology. They have a very high degree of efficacy but require insanely low temperatures. They both use the same technique for drug discovery based on mRNA. This is perhaps the quickest any vaccine has been brought to market as well. Moderna is very excited because they call the mRNA a platform akin to a computer operating system on which many things can be developed.

Recognizing the broad potential of mRNA science, we set out to create an mRNA technology platform that functions very much like an operating system on a computer. It is designed so that it can plug and play interchangeably with different programs. In our case, the "program” or “app” is our mRNA drug - the unique mRNA sequence that codes for a protein.

Source: Moderna

Moderna is using the mRNA which has part of the Viral DNA code to synthesise the protein that is the virus and then have the immune system attack it. Since the mRNA is only one side of an RNA strand it is highly unstable hence the low-temperature requirement. 

Vaccine discovery will get faster in the coming years.

Also

Trump pardoned the Turkey

Deep in the Utah desert, they found an impeccably crafted steel monolith

Punjab farmers have been protesting against the farm bill for over a month. They are now marching to Delhi to protest and the government does not want that.


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