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April 2015

SAND

For Singapore, territorial expansion is an essential part of economic development. Since independence in 1965 the country has expanded by 22 per cent, from 58,000 hectares to 71,000 hectares and the government expects to need another 5,600 hectares by 2030. Singapore’s need for sand is acute as it builds not just upwards but outwards adding territory by filling in the sea. Singapore is stockpiling vast amounts of sand to safeguard supplies as it long ago ran out of its own and has now become the largest importer of sand worldwide.

POWER

Plans have been unveiled in the UK to generate electricity from the world’s first series of tidal lagoons. The six lagoons, four in Wales and one each in Somerset and Cumbria, will capture incoming and outgoing tides behind giant sea walls and use the weight of the water to power turbines. Each will require massive engineering, in Swansea, the sea wall required to contain the new lagoon will stretch more than five miles and reach more than two miles out to sea. The Cardiff lagoon will include up to 90 turbines set in a 14-mile breakwater. The project is expected to be generating power by 2022.

COWS

Scientists in China have produced a herd of genetically engineered cows that are better able to ward off bovine TB infection. The long-term goal of the research is to avoid the need to cull livestock by breeding disease resistant cattle. Bovine TB is a risk in many areas, including New Zealand, England and Wales and parts of Africa and Asia. In 2013, over 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in the UK at a cost to taxpayers of US$200-million.

PAYPHONES

In a recent report, the CRTC stated that 32 per cent of Canadians had used a payphone at least once in the past year, despite the declining number of phones available and the ubiquitous adoption of mobile phones. However, payphone call volumes are falling by 24 per cent a year and phone companies are taking payphone out at an annual rate that will rise to 15 per cent a year by 2016. Next year there will be about 55,000 pay phones across Canada, about one third of the number in place in 2013. 636 pay phones had no usage at all over a 13-month period.

BANKING

An Alberta online bank is believed to be the first Canadian financial institution to deny online Internet service to Americans even to those living in Canada. The bank said the reason is partly based on the legal requirements of a US law that has forced financial institutions around the world to track accounts held by Americans for US tax authorities. A number of financial institutions in Europe and elsewhere are already balking at doing business with Americans. The regulations have caused extreme stress for hundreds of thousands of Americans and duel US-Canadian citizens, many of whom have never filed US taxes.

OYSTERS

Oysters need a balance of fresh and salt water to thrive. River flows regulate salinity and provide food and discourage predators. Since 1990, Georgia, Alabama and Florida have battled over water from two river basins and to complicate matters, the federal Army Corps of Engineers runs dams and reservoirs on the rivers. The Apalachicola River has long supplied almost half the fresh water to Florida’s west coast. Now, with dropping supplies of water, oyster production has suffered. One town that took three million pounds of oyster meat ashore in 2012, 89 per cent of Florida’s total haul and 9 per cent of the national harvest, saw the figure drop to one million pounds a year later and even less in 2014.

DEFENSE

Global defence spending increased by 1.7 per cent in 2014, after three years of decreases. More than half of this growth came from three countries: Saudi Arabia, China and Russia. Saudi Arabia’s spending was the most striking at more than 21 per cent. Spending in North America and Europe declined. While America remains the biggest military power, its share of the global expenditure total has dropped from 47 per cent in 2010 to 38 per cent in 2014.

FLOWERS

Dounan in China has become the country’s largest flower market with 1-million stems sold each day to destinations in China and beyond. In 1994 it had a mere 133 hectares devoted to flowers, by 2013 it had 67,400 hectares accounting for about a third of China’s blossom exports, helped by international air links. China now accounts for more than a quarter of land worldwide devoted to growing flowers and pot plants though its exports amount to only about four per cent of the world’s total flower trade by value. Over two-thirds of the blooms it sends abroad are sold in Asia. Myanmar is the biggest buyer. Freight costs are a barrier to the more lucrative markets of Europe and the US.

DONATIONS

The amount of charitable donations reported by Canadian tax filers in 2013 increased over the previous year while the actual number of donors fell one per cent. Total donations rose 3.5 per cent to C$8.6-billion. In 2013 21.9 per cent of all tax filers claimed charitable donations.

VALUE

Armed with a currency that buys 12 per cent more Canadian dollars than a few months ago, Chinese travellers and businessmen are clamouring for visas to cross the Pacific. In January, Chinese applications for visas to Canada climbed 53 per cent over the previous January to roughly 15,000 in a month that is typically the slowest. The Canadian embassy has asked Ottawa to send over enough temporary workers to boost its visa processing ranks by nearly 50 per cent.

PORTS

There are 29 shipping terminals on the west coast of the United States. The annual value of the cargo through these ports is US$2.1-trillion. 9.2-million jobs are supported by these ports and there are 128,800 port-specific jobs with the average annual pay of a longshoreman around $142,000.

MILK

Coca-Cola is coming out with premium milk that has more protein and less sugar than regular and it is hoping that consumers will pay twice as much for it. This is one way the world’s biggest beverage maker is diversifying its offerings as Americans continue turning away from soft drinks. Filters are used to separate the various components in milk. Then, more of the flavourable ones are added, while the less desirable ones are kept out. The result is a drink marketed as Fairlife that is lactose free, has 50 per cent more protein, 30 per cent more calcium and 50 per cent less sugar.

INCOME

Being a doctor in the US is lucrative but not evenly so. Rural medics make more because fewer doctors want to live in rural areas. Pay is lower in fashionable neighbourhoods: a doctor of general medicine in New York typically earns 64 per cent less than his peer in Alabama. The lowest pay is in Massachusetts which has four medical schools and a surplus of doctors.

GOLD

Global demand for gold is putting some of the most remote and pristine tropical forests at risk. Some 1,680 square kilometres of rain forest in South America was lost to gold mining from 2001 to 2013 and has become a major threat in countries such as Peru and Suriname. Satellite images show that forest clearance for gold mining accelerated after the international financial crisis of 2007 when it became profitable to mine in areas such as the soil beneath tropical forests.

SOLAR

Riverside County, California, is now home to the world’s largest solar power plant. The 550-megawatt project generates enough electricity to power 160,000 average California homes. In 2009, there were no traditional solar farms in the US larger than 100 megawatts, now, 17 such projects have been financed. The state’s three major utilities are on track to meet or exceed a 33 per cent renewable mandate by 2020.

APPLES

For the first time, all varieties of apples from the US have gone on sale in China. A deal was reached recently to grant access to all US varieties instead of just Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. The Washington Apple Commission which represents growers of the nation’s largest crop and most apple exports said China stopped buying US apples in 2012 because of concerns over a fungus. The deal culminates 20 years of efforts to send more varieties of apples to China.

SHOES

German researchers have built shoe-sized devices that harvest power from the act of walking. This technology could be used to power wearable electronic sensors without the need for batteries. There are two separate devices: a “shock harvester” that generates power when the heel strikes the ground and a “swing harvester” that produces power when the foot is swinging. Both devices generate power by exploiting the motion between magnets and coils. As the magnetic field of a moving magnet passes a stationary coil, a voltage is induced and an electric current generated.

EXERCISE

Results from the 2012 and 2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) indicate that adults aged 18 to 70 accumulated an average of about 12 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more, or about 84 minutes a week. As such, about only one in five adults achieved the recommended 150 minutes. The percentage of adults meeting the guidelines was lower in older age groups. The results also indicate that most school aged children are not getting enough physical activity.

APPLE

Never before has so much money been made by a single company in such a short period of time. In the last quarter of 2014, Apple made US$18-billion, beating the previous record of $15.8-billion reported by ExxonMobil in 2012. Apple’s profits stemmed largely from sales of its hugely popular iPhone which accounted for over two-thirds of its $74.6-billion revenue. On average, 34,000 iPhones were bought every hour of every day during the quarter, adding up to 74.5-million phones.

SPENDING

According to Statistics Canada, consumption patterns have changed in recent years. Canadians are spending more on mortgages, gardening, health insurance premiums and bank service fees, and a dwindling amount on reading materials and furnishings. Between 2010 an 2013, expenditures on hair grooming have increased by 98 per cent, vehicle repairs and maintenance by 118 per cent and 128 per cent on horticultural services. Declines have been noted in televisions/videos, 27 per cent, landlines, 16 per cent and photographic services, 27 per cent.

CARS

Carmakers in the US sold 16.5-million cars and light trucks in 2014, the most since 2006. The industry has been buoyed by falling gas prices and low interest rates. General Motors sold the most cars, ahead of Ford and Toyota. Fiat Chrysler saw its sales jump by 16 per cent and Americans are also falling in love again with SUVs which lost their appeal to motorists when gas prices were high.

OLIVES

A virulent pathogen that starves olive trees poses a serious threat to EU olive production. It is already affecting a vast area in Southern Italy and as it has numerous hosts and vectors, the bacterium is expected to spread further. Major consequences such as reduced yields and costly control measures will be the outcome if it spreads to other olive producing areas as well as increased prices. In Brazil, where the bacterium is a problem on citrus trees, it went from just a handful of infected trees to two million infected trees in just five years.

GYMs

In 2013, the number of times the average American gym member actually visited the gym was twice a week. Worldwide, the number of gyms has skyrocketed from 12,000 in 1993 to 32,150 today. The health club industry generates US$72-billion in revenue globally, $22-bilion of that in the US where the average monthly dues are $50. Sales of fitness trackers like Fitbit are expected to increase in the next three years from 19-million in 2014 to 57-million in 2018.

WEATHER

Botanists in the UK were stunned by the results of their annual hunt for plants in flower on New Year’s Day. According to the textbooks, there should be between 20 and 30 species in flower. This year there were 368 in bloom. This raises questions about the effects of climate change during the UK’s warmest year on record. The 368 species in flower is an unprecedented 15 per cent of the flowering plants in Britain and Ireland. The high count was partly due to the growth in the number of volunteers to do the count, but mostly because of climate change.

ENVIRONMENT

China’s love of fireworks is at least a millennium old but a Jan 1st law in Nanjing has banned all fireworks at all times which has resulted in the cleanest air in decades. More than 130 cities now ban fireworks entirely.

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