Thursday. 15/9/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Taking a dim view

Governments across Europe have long been preoccupied with political power rather than powering their nations. Today most are scrambling to find ways of keeping the lights on this winter without the aid of Russian energy. What’s more, the question of how to protect people from soaring wholesale prices and conserve supplies is sparking debate.

Some cities are offering solutions. In Berlin, 1,400 spotlights illuminating 200 historical monuments have been switched off, while the hot water in Hanover’s public buildings has been cut. Madrid (and the rest of Spain) has legally decreed that businesses must limit their heating to 19C this winter. Most striking is the decision that, from 21 September, the Eiffel Tower will go dark from 23.45, after it closes to visitors. This is a very public and rather symbolic move: night-time illumination only accounts for a modest 4 per cent of the monument’s energy use. We need to make meaningful cuts to energy consumption now or face involuntary power outages and perhaps rationing later.

Darker cities might benefit us in unforeseen ways too, from providing respite from the light to animals and plants to saving upwards of $3bn (€3bn) a year in wasted energy in the US (an estimate calculated well before prices peaked). According to the International Dark-Sky Association, up to a third of all outdoor lighting in the US is cast on uninhabited areas anyway. And that’s before we wade into research suggesting that artificial lights disrupt our sleep, mood and ability to see the stars.

Lights at night are important for safety and security, of course, but cities are still burning resources that they could save with smarter solutions. Dimming the Eiffel Tower for a few hours is an admirable statement but it could also be the beginning of a much brighter idea.

Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s editor.

Image: Reuters

Diplomacy / Caucasus

Moment of weakness

Russia’s attempts to control what happens in the former Soviet states has come unstuck in eastern Ukraine as its troops have been forced to flee from vast swaths of only recently occupied territory. But its influence on its old southern fiefdoms of Armenia and Azerbaijan has also taken a hit this week, with fatal consequences.

Russia has very close ties to Armenia, while Azerbaijan traditionally looks to Turkey for support. The two countries have fought and jostled for years over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. On Tuesday the Azerbaijanis began to shell Armenia, reportedly killing as many as 100 people. Speaking to The Globalist on Monocle 24, Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center, a Yerevan-based think tank, suggests that this escalation, just weeks after both sides met for peace talks, is down to Azerbaijan’s “perception of Russian weakness” and the sudden “absence of deterrents”. So what can be done? Giragosian says that this should be the moment for the EU to take the lead in renewing the ceasefire and reconvening talks. “There is no military solution,” he adds.

Image: Shutterstock

Fashion / Global

On the up

Against all odds, revenues at Zara’s parent company Inditex continue to rise. The group’s sales reached €14.8bn for the first half of 2022, a 25 per cent increase compared to the same period last year. Zara and Zara Home were the top performers, their combined sales rising by 29 per cent to €10.9bn. Group CEO Óscar García Maceiras says that it’s all down to the “growth potential” of its business model, which combines online and physical retailing. But perhaps the company’s smartest move has been to raise its standards and avoid the same criticism that other fast-fashion players are having to face down. Zara, in particular, has been collaborating with luxury designers, such as Narciso Rodriguez, and sustainability start-ups to increase its use of recycled fibres.

Growth has been steady across the fashion market despite ongoing supply-chain issues and inflationary headwinds, with Spanish groups often leading the way. Barcelona-based Puig has just announced the acquisition of Indian beauty brand Kama Ayurveda, as it eyes opportunities in the South Asian market.

Image: Alamy

Work / Spain

Bright ideas

Luring people back into employment post-pandemic has proved trickier than many imagined. Researchers in the US are wondering where all the workers have gone. The answers seem to range from people taking early retirement to jobseekers holding out for a role that offers the flexibility that they now expect from employers. In Germany the shortage of workers has led to calls to fast-track residency for immigrants, while vacancies in the UK are at record levels.

Even in the competitive world of banking, employers are thinking harder about how to lure top talent. That’s why Citigroup has just opened a base in the sunny Spanish city of Málaga, where it is offering roles to 27 analysts, promising eight-hour days and work-free weekends. While some have questioned the rationale – is this just a stunt? – the move has Monocle’s backing. The city’s mayor, Francisco de la Torre, who has been in power since 2000, has done a fine job at nurturing his city, which is now home to ambitious architects and offers peerless hospitality. It’s a worthy city for anyone to call home.

Elections / Brazil

Looking left and right

We all know the narrative: president Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has been a disaster and life will improve for Brazilians if they reinstate leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the national elections this October. But not everyone in the country sees it that way, even after Bolsonaro (pictured, in statuette form) oversaw a catastrophic response to the pandemic that resulted in some 680,000 people dying from the virus (about 10 per cent of the global death toll).

Image: Tommaso Protti
Image: Tommaso Protti

For the big read in the October issue of Monocle, which is out today, we travelled across the nation and found an electorate that often seemed unsure where salvation might lie: in the harsh law-and-order policies of Bolsonaro or in Lula, a man who led a system riven with corruption. To witness the scenes at places such as the wealthy gun clubs of Rio (where Bolsonaro is seen as a hero), as well as the city’s samba clubs, make sure you have your print and digital subscription to Monocle.

Image: Noel Manaliii

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Design in Paris and Habitare

We visit Maison & Objet in Paris and make a pit stop at Finland’s largest furniture and decoration event, Habitare. Plus: the story behind a collaboration between a Japanese leather specialist and a Copenhagen-based furniture-maker.

Monocle Films / Skelleftea

Inside Sweden’s electric flight school

A new electric flight school in Sweden is inspiring a future of emission-free aviation. Monocle takes to the sky, tries out the first fully electric plane to be approved for use in Europe and hears how Skellefteå has become a hotbed of green start-ups. Read more in the June issue of the magazine.

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