Tuesday. 20/8/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Peter Firth

Breathe easy

There is a multiplying list of concerns when it comes to the environment. With deforestation, climate change and ocean plastic (to name but a few issues), it’s difficult to know which topic to wring one’s hands over at any given time. One problem in the ascendency is air pollution in cities. It’s a sign of the times: our transgressions against nature aren’t just being felt by squirrels and sea turtles but by residents in wealthy, cosmopolitan capitals too. While the physical risk of living in some built-up areas equates to smoking a packet of cigarettes every day for 29 years, there is another, subtler problem.

According to new findings by scientists, published today in research journal Plos Biology, bad air could be associated with higher cases of mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and depression. Examining populations across the US and Denmark, the study found that exposure to polluted air during the first 10 years of a person’s life – particularly in Denmark – leads to a twofold increase in schizophrenia and personality disorders. While the results have stirred controversy in the scientific community, the findings ought to add momentum to the drive to clean up the air in cities. Jakarta’s move (see below) is the right response and it’s this simple: more plants, fewer cars.

Politics / Italy

Democratic divorce

A vote of confidence in the Italian government is due to take place in Rome today after the country’s fractious coalition broke down. Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing Lega, called for a snap election earlier this month following a series of spats with his coalition partners, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S). Senior M5S figures responded on Sunday by announcing that Salvini (pictured, centre) was no longer a suitable partner. Caught in the middle is Italy’s independent prime minister Giuseppe Conte, who is likely to lose the vote today. Until last week all odds were on Salvini’s plan for a new election but even if Conte loses, a new interim government could still be on the cards.

Economics / Lebanon

Held to account

Lebanon is braced for a further blow to its already struggling economy this week when ratings agency S+P reviews its financial prospects on Friday. There has been no word on what is expected but financial-services company Moody’s downgraded the country’s rating earlier this year and little has changed since. The biggest bugbear for investors is Beirut’s debt which, at 160 per cent of GDP, is the world’s third highest. Earlier this month the government agreed to reform the energy sector (a black hole for public funds) and reduce the budget deficit – but implementation is not scheduled until October. On top of its reputation as a trustworthy borrower, some $11bn (€9.9bn) in international financing is riding on Lebanon’s ability to pull off the reforms. The stakes have never been higher.

Retail / The US

Well worn

US department stores JCPenney and Macy’s are wading into a new market: secondhand clothing. Macy’s has announced that it is partnering with San Francisco firm ThredUp to sell used women’s clothing and accessories in 40 of its locations across the US; the same service will be on offer in 30 JCPenney shops. Both retailers are hoping to get a piece of an increasingly lucrative industry. According to ThredUp, the fashion resale market will be worth $51bn (€46bn) come 2023 and will eclipse fast-fashion sales within a decade. But while both Macy’s and JCPenney are hoping to lure carbon-conscious customers, they shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that department-store struggles aren’t solely the result of the products they carry: good service and better-designed shops are also key to mending their problems.

Urbanism / Jakarta

Seed capital

At last some good news for smog-stifled residents of Jakarta: the city’s governor, Anies Baswedan, announced on Sunday that the city intends to push ahead with a huge initiative to increase parkland. The aim is to build 50 new parks a year until 2022; Baswedan is confident that he can find enough unused space in the city to build 200 between now and then. The mass-greening initiative will also include the planting of thousands of roadside flowers; 100,000 bougainvilleas have already been placed along the major roads of Jalan Jenderal Sudirman and Jalan MH Thamrin. At a national level there are plans to relocate the capital to somewhere less congested and polluted; the governor’s strategy to transform the existing city is a better idea.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’

Last week saw the UK release of what is supposedly Quentin Tarantino’s penultimate film: ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’. Robert Bound, Simran Hans and Tim Robey discuss the counter-culture, cowboys and controversies surrounding it.

Monocle Films / Spain

Campus of creativity

“Foster independent thinking” is a key phrase in modern education but few places get it right. We visit Madrid’s Colegio Estudio to meet the enlightened teachers and alumni.

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