1st January Current Affairs

1.Geoengineering

News: Geoengineering has steadily shifted over the last few decades from the margins towards the mainstream of climate action discourse.

What is Geoengineering?

  • Climate engineering aka geoengineering is the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, usually with the aim of mitigating the adverse effects of global warming.
  • It is a deliberate, large-scale intervention carried out in the Earth’s natural systems to reverse the impacts of climate change.
  • Its techniques fall primarily under three categories: Solar radiation management (SRM), carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and weather modification. Solar radiation management refers to offsetting the warming effect of greenhouse gases by reflecting more solar radiation (sunlight) back into space.
  • Carbon dioxide removal refers to removing carbon dioxide gas (CO2) from the atmosphere and sequestering it for long periods of time. Debates around geoengineering have burrowed to the deepest roots of our conflict with nature — do we have the right to manage and manipulate nature?

Specifications:

  • Solar geoengineering or ‘dimming the sun’ by spraying sulfates into the air to reflect sunlight back into space;
  • Ocean fertilization or the dumping of iron or urea to stimulate phytoplankton growth to absorb more carbon;
  • Cloud brightening or spraying saltwater to make clouds more reflective and more.
  • CDR technologies being proposed as a means to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions by mid-century involve deliberate intervention in the natural carbon cycle:
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS), direct air capture (DAC) and
  • Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)

India and Geo-engineering

  • We had experiments such as LOHAFEX (an ocean iron fertilization experiment to see if iron can cause algal bloom and trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere).
  • LOHAFEX was an ocean iron fertilization experiment jointly planned by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in India and the Helmholtz Foundation in Germany. The purpose of the experiment was to see if the iron would cause an algal bloom and trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Previous outcomes:

  • As expected iron fertilization led to the development of bloom during LOHAFEX, but the chlorophyll increase within the fertilized patch, an indicator of biomass, was smaller than in previous experiments.
  • The algal bloom also stimulated the growth of zooplankton that feed on them. The zooplanktons in turn are consumed by higher organisms. Thus, ocean fertilization with iron also contributes to the carbon-fixing marine biomass of fish species which have been removed from the ocean by over-fishing.

Debate over its advocacy

  • Mainstream activists are advocating solar geoengineering as a means to buy “humanity more time to cut greenhouse gas emissions”. Opponents of have numerous foundationally solid arguments. They warn against “taking our ecosystems even further away from self-regulation”.
  • They argue that such actions distract attention from the need for deep cuts to gross emissions which is achievable with the right political will and resource mobilization.

Consequences:

  • Conducting tests for geoengineering is a fallacy since these methods need to be deployed at a scale large enough to impact the global climate system to be certain of their efficacy. It is a large risk to take without knowing the potentially harmful consequences of such a planetary scale deployment.
  • Some of these consequences are already known. Solar geoengineering, for example, alters rainfall patterns that can disrupt agriculture and water supplies. Injecting sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere above the Arctic to mimic volcano clouds, for example, can disrupt the monsoons in Asia and increase droughts.

Global Concerns:

  • Manipulating the climate could have the same geopolitical function as nuclear weapons.
  • Even before geoengineering is deployed, it may be used as a threat that will likely incite countermeasures.
  • Say if governments ever gain control of changing the course of potentially damaging storms, diversions that direct storms toward other countries may be seen as acts of war.

Way Forward

  • We all know that climate change is growing more rapidly than anticipated earlier.
  • Hence we should combine it with a programme of deep decarbonisation. This would help implement a “clean-up process” that will hasten our return to a more habitable environment.
  • Scientists agree that natural climate solutions such as forest sinks cannot be relied upon for the scale of mitigation needed. Therefore, for a socially just application of such technologies for carbon capture with geological sequestration offers ‘negative emissions’.
  • Geoengineering cannot be treated as a magical mechanism to escape heightening concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs), while accepting the viewpoint that rapid decarbonisation is impossible.
  • It also cannot be treated as a license to continue emitting more GHGs with no changes to current consumption and production patterns.
  • Specific technologies that can help us achieve negative emissions need to be publicly funded and democratically administered to ensure that they serve the public interest.
  • And they can only act as a supplement to scaling back of GHG emissions in all sectors, not a substitute.

2.Recusal of Judges

News: Andhra High Court rejects plea for recusal of judge from hearing petitions filed against the proposed sale of government land in Guntur and Visakhapatnam districts under “Mission Build A.P.”

What is Judicial Disqualification or Recusal?

  • Judicial disqualification, referred to as recusal, is the act of abstaining from participation in an official action such as a legal proceeding due to a conflict of interest of the presiding court official or administrative officer.
  • The judge is biased in favour of one party, or against another, or that a reasonable objective observer would think he might be.
  • Interest in the subject matter, or relationship with someone who is interested in it.
  • Background or experience, such as the judge’s prior work as a lawyer.
  • Personal knowledge about the parties or the facts of the case.
  • Ex parte communications with lawyers or non-lawyers.
  • Rulings, comments or conduct.

Legal Remedies:

  • There are no definite rules on recusals by Judges.
  • However, In taking oath of office, judges, both of the Supreme Court and of the high courts, promise to perform their duties, to deliver justice, “without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”.

What has the Supreme Court said on this?

  • Justice J. Chelameswar in his opinion in Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India (2015)held that “Where a judge has a pecuniary interest, no further inquiry as to whether there was a ‘real danger’ or ‘reasonable suspicion’ of bias is required to be undertaken”.

3.Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

News: The approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK this week will make a significant impact on the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus as it is the most accessible shot approved so far and is likely to remain that way. This is significant for India, as the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) has tied up with AstraZeneca to deploy the vaccine in the country.

How this vaccine works?

  • This new vaccine is a viral vector vaccine,which works in a different way than the mRNA vaccines that have already been approved.
  • A viral vector vaccine uses another non-replicating virus to deliver SARS-CoV-2 genes, in the form of DNA, into human cells, where viral proteins are produced to induce protective immune responses.

Types of vaccines:

  • Inactivated:These are vaccines made by using particles of the Covid-19 virus that were killed, making them unable to infect or replicate. Injecting particular doses of these particles serves to build immunity by helping the body create antibodies against the dead virus.
  • Non-replicating viral vector:It uses a weakened, genetically modified version of a different virus to carry the Covid-19 spike protein.
  • Protein subunit:This vaccine uses a part of the virus to build an immune response in a targeted fashion. In this case, the part of the virus being targeted would be the spike protein.
  • RNA:Such vaccines use the messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules that tell cells what proteins to build. The mRNA, in this case, is coded to tell the cells to recreate the spike protein. Once it is injected, the cells will use the mRNA’s instructions, creating copies of the spike protein, which in turn is expected to prompt the immune cells to create antibodies to fight it.
  • DNA:These vaccines use genetically engineered DNA molecules that, again, are coded with the antigen against which the immune response is to be built.

4.Internet Use in India

News: The recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) survey helps us gain an idea about the spread of awareness regarding the internet among people.

Need for such data:

  • The internet today has a very huge range and a big impact on the lifestyle and empowerment of people.
  • Female empowerment and gender equality have been one of the UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goals that our country is trying to achieve.
  • Good and affordable internet availability to women will be a big step towards fulfilling this goal.

Statewise Internet Usage

Genderwise data

  • A very high differential is also seen among the female and male population who have ever used the internet. In every state, it is seen that the percentage of male users exceeds the female ones.
  • The states and Union territories with the highest percentage of internet users among men are Goa (82.9 %), Lakshadweep (80.3 %) and Mizoram (79.7 %).
  • Also, states like Sikkim (76.7 %), Goa (73.7 %) and Mizoram (67.6 %) have the highest percentage of female internet users. The lowest internet usage among men is seen in Meghalaya (42.1 %), Assam (42.3 %) and Bihar (43.6 %).
  • In some states like Bihar, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, there is almost double the number of male internet users than female ones. Among women, it is seen in Bihar (20.6 %), Andhra Pradesh (21 %) and Tripura (22.9 %).

Urban-Rural divide

  • Except for West Bengal, there is no other state which shows a lower percentage of urban male internet users compared to rural ones. States like Goa, Kerala and Lakshadweep don’t show a huge variation in internet accessibility in the urban and rural areas. But in every other state, there is an approximate difference of 10-15 % between the two regions, with urban areas staying ahead.

Significance of the data

  • Gender differentiation that is seen in the offline world also affects the variations that we have seen in the online world, which includes differences in education, employment and income. Sexual harassment and trolling are other reasons why people prefer to keep their female relatives away from the internet.
  • Just like phone ownership was used as an indicator to understand the women empowerment situation in the country, this too can be an indicator for the same.

Conclusion

  • The results from the NFHS-5 survey are still partial, but they have shown a great variation in the access to the internet among the states, between men and women and also between the rural and urban regions of each state.
  • When we look at the differentials in the usage of the internet by women across the rural and urban regions, a huge gap is seen between the urban and rural women’s use of the internet.
  • The variations are very high, with the percentage of women users of the internet in rural areas being just half of that in urban areas. These disparities paint a sad picture.