Scroll the Menu to See More!

TIME - Top Stories

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s Longtime Sidekick at Berkshire Hathaway, Dies at 99

Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger listens to a question during an interview on May 7, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.

OMAHA, Neb. — Charlie Munger, who helped Warren Buffett build Berkshire Hathaway into an investment powerhouse, has died at a California hospital. He was 99.

Berkshire Hathaway said in a statement that Munger’s family told the company that he died Tuesday morning at the hospital just over a month before his 100th birthday.

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

“Berkshire Hathaway could not have been built to its present status without Charlie’s inspiration, wisdom and participation,” Buffett said in a statement. The famous investor also devoted part of his annual letter to Berkshire shareholders earlier this year to a tribute to Munger.

Munger served as Buffett’s sounding board on investments and business decisions and helped lead Berkshire for more than five decades and served as its longtime vice chairman.

Munger had been using a wheelchair to get around for several years but he had remained mentally sharp. That was on display while he fielded hours of questions at the annual meetings of Berkshire and the Daily Journal Corp. earlier this year, and in recent interviews on an investing podcast and also with The Wall Street Journal and CNBC.

Munger preferred to stay in the background and let Buffett be the face of Berkshire, and he often downplayed his contributions to the company’s remarkable success.

But Buffett always credited Munger with pushing him beyond his early value investing strategies to buy great businesses at good prices like See’s Candy.

“Charlie has taught me a lot about valuing businesses and about human nature,” Buffett said in 2008.

Buffett’s early successes were based on what he learned from former Columbia University professor Ben Graham. He would buy stock in companies that were selling cheaply for less than their assets were worth, and then, when the market price improved, sell the shares.

Munger and Buffett began buying Berkshire Hathaway shares in 1962 for $7 and $8 per share, and they took control of the New England textile mill in 1965. Over time, the two men reshaped Berkshire into the conglomerate it is today by using proceeds from its businesses to buy other companies like Geico insurance and BNSF railroad, while also maintaining a high-profile stock portfolio with major investments in Apple and Coca-Cola. The shares have grown to $546,869 Tuesday, and many investors became wealthy by holding onto the stock.

Munger gave an extended interview to CNBC earlier this month in preparation for his 100th birthday, and the business network showed clips from that Tuesday. In his characteristic self-deprecating manner, Munger summed up the secret to Berkshire’s success as avoiding mistakes and continuing to work well into his and Buffett’s 90s.

“We got a little less crazy than most people and a little less stupid than most people and that really helped us,” Munger said. He went into more detail about the reasons for Berkshire’s success in a special letter he wrote in 2014 to mark 50 years of helping lead the company.

During the entire time they worked together, Buffett and Munger lived more than 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) apart, but Buffett said he would call Munger in Los Angeles or Pasadena to consult on every major decision he made.

“He will be greatly missed by many, perhaps by nobody more than Mr. Buffett, who relied heavily on his wisdom and counsel. I was envious of their friendship. They challenged each other yet seemed to really enjoy being in each other’s company,” Edward Jones analyst Jim Shanahan said.

Berkshire will likely be OK without Munger, CFRA Research analyst Cathy Seifert said, but there’s no way to replace the role he played. After all, Munger may have been one of the few people in the world willing to tell Buffett he is wrong about something.

“The most pronounced impact, I think, is going to be over the next several years as we see Buffett navigate without him,” Seifert said.

Munger grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, about five blocks away from Buffett’s current home, but because Munger is seven years older the two men didn’t meet as children, even though both worked at the grocery store Buffett’s grandfather and uncle ran.

When the two men met in 1959 at an Omaha dinner party, Munger was practicing law in Southern California and Buffett was running an investment partnership in Omaha.

Buffett and Munger hit it off at that initial meeting and then kept in touch through frequent telephone calls and lengthy letters, according to the biography in the definitive book on Munger called “Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger.”

The two men shared investment ideas and occasionally bought into the same companies during the 1960s and ’70s. They became the two biggest shareholders in one of their common investments, trading stamp maker Blue Chip Stamp Co., and through that acquired See’s Candy, the Buffalo News and Wesco. Munger became Berkshire’s vice chairman in 1978, and chairman and president of Wesco Financial in 1984.

Berkshire’s legions of devoted shareholders who regularly packed an Omaha arena to listen to the two men will remember the curmudgeonly quips Munger offered while answering questions alongside Buffett at the annual meetings.

Munger was known for repeating “I have nothing to add” after many of Buffett’s expansive answers at the Berkshire meetings. But Munger also often offered sharp answers that cut straight to the heart of an issue, such as the advice he offered in 2012 on spotting a good investment.

“If it’s got a really high commission on it, don’t bother looking at it,” he said.

Investor Whitney Tilson has attended the past 26 years of Berkshire Hathaway annual meetings for the chance to learn from Munger and Buffett, who doled out life lessons along with investing tips. Tilson said Munger advised that after achieving some success “your whole approach to life should be how not to screw it up, how not to lose what you’ve got” because reputation and integrity are the most valuable assets, and both can be lost in a heartbeat.

“In the investment world, it’s the same thing is in your personal world, which is your main goal should be avoiding the catastrophic mistakes that could destroy an investment record, that can destroy a life,” Tilson said.

Munger famously summed that advice up humorously by saying, “All I want to know is where I’m going to die so (that) I never go there.”

Munger was known as a voracious reader and a student of human behavior. He employed a variety of different models borrowed from disciplines like psychology, physics and mathematics to evaluate potential investments.

Munger studied mathematics at the University of Michigan in the 1940s, but dropped out of college to serve as a meteorologist in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Then he went on to earn a law degree from Harvard University in 1948 even though he hadn’t finished a bachelor’s degree. He co-founded a law firm in Los Angeles that still bears his name, but decided before long that he preferred investing.

Munger built a fortune worth more than $2 billion at one point and earned a spot on the list of the richest Americans. Munger’s wealth decreased over time as he gave more of his fortune away, but the ever increasing value of Berkshire’s stock kept him wealthy.

Munger has given significant gifts to Harvard-Westlake, Stanford University Law School, the University of Michigan and the Huntington Library as well as other charities. He also gave a significant portion of his Berkshire stock to his eight children after his wife died in 2010.

Munger also served on the boards of Good Samaritan Hospital and the private Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. And Munger served on the board of Costco Wholesale Corp. and for years as chairman of the Daily Journal Corp.

Biden Impeachment Effort Hits Critical Stage as Hunter Biden Pushes to Testify Publicly

President Biden Hosts India Prime Minister Modi For State Visit

The yearlong effort by House Republicans to impeach President Joe Biden is reaching a critical stage, as the President’s brother and son may testify in the coming weeks even as questions linger about whether the disjointed investigation has uncovered any impeachable offenses.

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

House Republicans have yet to prove that money made by Joe Biden’s son Hunter or other family members in overseas business deals made it to Joe Biden or influenced his actions while he was President or Vice President. Months of press releases and depositions by the Republican leaders of the House Oversight Committee have been big on fanfare and light on substance.

Joe Biden’s brother Jim Biden is scheduled to be interviewed by the committee on Dec. 6, and Joe Biden’s son Hunter is scheduled to be deposed on Dec. 13. 

Hunter Biden’s legal team believes the Republicans’ case against the President is weak enough that its lead lawyer on Tuesday challenged Rep. James Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, to let Hunter testify at a public hearing. “Our client will get right to it by agreeing to answer any pertinent and relevant question you or your colleagues might have, but—rather than subscribing to your cloaked, one-sided process—he will appear at a public Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing,” Abbe Lowell wrote on Hunter Biden’s behalf. “A public proceeding would prevent selective leaks, manipulated transcripts, doctored exhibits, or one-sided press statements.”

Comer refused the offer, saying Hunter Biden would be deposed privately and could be called later to testify in a public hearing. The House Oversight Committee “won’t conduct this investigation on Hunter’s terms,” Comer wrote Tuesday on X. “The President’s son must first appear for a deposition.”

The public back-and-forth came as some House Republicans are acknowledging that the information uncovered so far hasn’t shown Joe Biden being influenced by money being made by his son or other family members, or it playing a role in any of his actions as a public servant. On Tuesday, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, who’s been driving attention toward Comer’s investigation for months, asked Rep. Lisa McClain of Michigan, a member of the Oversight Committee, if Republicans had found any policy changes Joe Biden made as a result of those business deals. “The short answer is no,” McClain said. “That’s what we are trying to get to right now.” 

The inquiry has produced evidence suggesting Hunter Biden traded off his family name to advance his business interests. Hunter Biden is also the focus of a federal criminal investigation and has been charged with lying about his drug use when he purchased a handgun in 2018.

Meanwhile, Comer has been casting his investigation farther afield. On Monday, the Kentucky Republican wrote in an op-ed published by Fox News that the Committee has concerns about the classified documents found last year in a closet in Joe Biden’s University of Pennsylvania offices in Washington, D.C., but that the prosecutor investigating the documents case, Special Counsel Robert Hur, refused to let House Republicans look at the material.

The inquiry into Biden’s improper possession of classified documents has unfolded alongside an investigation into former President Donald Trump’s taking of classified documents to his home in Florida, with Trump allegedly refusing to give some of them back. That led to Trump being federally charged in August in a case that could reach trial next year. Biden has said he didn’t know the classified documents were in his possession and that he returned them promptly when they were discovered.

Comer wrote that he was concerned individuals without security clearances may have had access to the Biden documents and that some of the documents were related to countries where Biden’s son and family members were doing business deals. But Comer hasn’t shown evidence that’s the case.

“President Biden’s mishandling of classified material and his involvement in his family’s business schemes threaten our national security,” Comer wrote in his op-ed, suggesting the documents could play a larger role than previously expected in an impeachment push that’s expected to reach its final stages early next year.

The House impeachment inquiry into Biden is picking up momentum after the House muddled through a leadership crisis throughout most of October, after the chamber voted to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy as Speaker. His replacement, Speaker Mike Johnson, is watching the impeachment proceedings closely and said earlier this month that the inquiry is at “an inflection point” and that the “appropriate” next step is to put witnesses under oath and question them to “fill gaps in the record.” 

The Stakes of Idaho Asking the Supreme Court to Allow Near-Total Abortion Ban


Idaho officials on Monday asked the Supreme Court to restore a strict abortion law that would allow the state to prosecute physicians conducting abortions in some cases. If the Supreme Court decides to weigh in, it would be the first time the nation’s highest court would render a judgment on punishing abortion-providing doctors after overturning the constitutional right an abortion.

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

The Idaho law, enacted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, allows state officials to prosecute or revoke the professional license of doctors who perform abortions, except in cases where it is necessary to prevent the woman’s death or when the pregnancy results from rape or incest.

It’s unclear if the Supreme Court will step in, but the justices are yet to schedule an abortion hearing since the Dobbs decision. “It’s pretty routine when you lose in the lower court to ask the Supreme Court to intervene,” says Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California at Davis with an expertise in abortion. “Whether the court is willing to intervene or even wants to deal with yet another abortion case is a trickier question.”

Idaho’s law is one of the strictest in the nation, and whether the Supreme Court gets involved will have legal and political ramifications in the country’s shifting abortion landscape. A ruling against Idaho “may discourage states from going as far as Idaho has,” says Ziegler. “There’s also the politics of it, where we’ve seen voters being increasingly unhappy with sweeping abortion bans.”

Read More: Idaho’s New Law Will Punish Anyone Helping a Minor Access an Out-of-State Abortion With Up to 5 Years in Prison

The legal battle in Idaho is part of a broader wave of challenges following the Dobbs decision. Idaho’s near-total abortion ban has been contested in courts for over a year. After an initial appeal by the state, a panel of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued a ruling that would have allowed the law to take effect. However, an en banc panel of 9th Circuit judges later put the law on hold earlier this month.

The law was originally challenged in court by the Biden Administration, which argued that the Idaho law would inhibit emergency room doctors from performing abortions that are necessary to stabilize the health of women facing medical emergencies and violated the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a provision of a federal Medicare statute that bars states from imposing restrictions that would prevent emergency room doctors from treating patients.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled in favor of the Biden Administration in August 2022, claiming that Idaho officials cannot enforce the abortion law against doctors who are also obligated to follow the federal EMTALA. Winmill expressed concern that doctors in emergency rooms could face an impossible task of complying with both federal and state law, given the complex and chaotic nature of emergency medical situations. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September at first agreed to let Idaho enforce its ban pending appeal, but then the full panel of appeals judges in November lifted the stay, effectively meaning the law cannot go into effect.

In a court filing on Monday, Idaho’s Republican attorney general urged the Supreme Court to step in on an emergency basis to put the district court’s ruling on hold while it appeals the decision, claiming that it marked “an ongoing violation of both Idaho’s sovereignty and its traditional police power over medical practice.”

Idaho officials also argued that both Winmill’s initial decision and the recent 9th Circuit ruling infringe on the Supreme Court’s endorsement of states’ rights in the Dobbs decision. Idaho officials, represented by a conservative legal group that opposes abortion, contend that the federal emergency care law in question, EMTALA, is intended to prevent “patient dumping” rather than allowing the federal government to dictate state abortion law.

The Idaho case comes more than a year after abortion laws were thrown into turmoil following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a longstanding ruling that guaranteed abortion rights to women nationwide.

Hamas and Israel Exchange More Hostages for Prisoners on Fifth day of Temporary Cease-Fire

Israel Palestinians

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — Hamas released 12 hostages and Israel released 30 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday, the fifth day of a fragile cease-fire that has enabled humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza and that mediators hope to extend even as Israel pledges to resume the war.

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

Israel said 10 of its citizens and two Thai nationals freed by Hamas returned to Israel. Soon after, Israel released the Palestinian prisoners. The truce is due to end after one more exchange Wednesday night.

CIA director William Burns and David Barnea, who heads Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, were in Qatar, a key mediator with Hamas, to discuss extending the cease-fire and releasing more hostages, a diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. A U.S. official confirmed Burns was in Qatar, speaking anonymously because the director’s travel plans are not publicized for security reasons.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit the region this week, also with an eye to extending the truce.

Israel has vowed to resume the war with “full force” to destroy Hamas once it’s clear that no more hostages will be freed under the deal.

The Biden administration has told Israel it must avoid “significant further displacement” and mass casualties among Palestinian civilians if it resumes the offensive, and that it must operate with more precision in southern Gaza than it has in the north, according to U.S. officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.

Hamas and other militants are still holding about 160 hostages out of the 240 seized in their Oct. 7 assault into southern Israel that ignited the war. Israel has said it is willing to extend the cease-fire by one day for every 10 additional hostages that Hamas releases, according to the deal brokered by the Qatar, Egypt and the U.S. But Hamas is expected to make much higher demands for the release of captive soldiers.

Israel has vowed to end Hamas’ 16-year rule in Gaza and crush its military capabilities. That would almost certainly require expanding the ground offensive from northern Gaza to the south, where most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million is now crowded. It’s unclear where they would go if Israel expands its ground operation, as Egypt has refused to accept refugees and Israel has sealed its border.

Hostages and prisoners released

The latest group of Israeli hostages freed from Gaza — nine women and a 17-year-old — was flown to hospitals in Israel, the Israeli military said.

Tuesday’s hostage release brought to 60 the number of Israelis freed under the terms of the truce between Israel and Hamas. An additional 21 hostages — 19 Thais, one Filipino and one Russian-Israeli — have been released in separate negotiations since the truce began.

Earlier in the war, Hamas released four Israeli hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one during its offensive in Gaza. Two other hostages were found dead in Gaza.

The latest swap brought to 180 the number of Palestinian women and teenagers freed from Israeli prisons. Most have been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several released women were convicted by Israeli military courts of attempting to carry out deadly attacks. The prisoners are widely seen by Palestinians as heroes resisting occupation.

The freed hostages have mostly stayed out of the public eye, but details of their captivity have started to emerge.

In one of the first interviews with a freed hostage, 78-year-old Ruti Munder told Israel’s Channel 13 television that she was initially fed well in captivity but that conditions worsened as shortages took hold. She said she was kept in a “suffocating” room and slept on plastic chairs with a sheet for nearly 50 days.

Israel imposed a siege on Gaza at the start of the war and only allowed a trickle of food, water, medicine and fuel to enter prior to the cease-fire, leading to widespread shortages and a territory-wide power blackout.

Tuesday saw the first major exchange of fire between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters in northern Gaza since the cease-fire began Friday. Each side blamed the other for the outbreak, but no further violence followed and the swap went ahead. Still, it underscored the fragility of the truce, with the warring sides holding their positions in close proximity to each other.

Northern Gaza in ruins

The cease-fire has allowed residents who remained in Gaza City and other parts of the north to venture out to survey the destruction and try to locate and bury relatives.

In northern Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp, which Israel bombarded heavily for weeks and which troops surrounded in heavy fighting with militants, “you come across whole city blocks that have been demolished, just a pancake of concrete layered as buildings have collapsed,” said Thomas White, the Gaza director for the U.N. agency caring for Palestinian refugees.

The agency delivered six trucks of aid to the camp, including supplies for a medical center. Footage of White’s visit showed streets lined with destroyed buildings, cars, and piles of rubble.

A U.N.-led aid consortium estimates that, across Gaza, over 234,000 homes have been damaged and 46,000 completely destroyed, amounting to around 60% of the territory’s housing stock. In the north, the destruction “severely compromises the ability to meet basic requirements to sustain life,” it said.

More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. More than 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial attack.

At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive. Israel says it has killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.

Authorities were able to reopen the dialysis department at Gaza City’s Shifa hospital after medical teams brought a small generator. Around 20 patients there had gone two or three weeks without dialysis, Dr. Mutasim Salah told Al-Jazeera TV from the hospital.

Two weeks ago, Israeli forces seized the hospital, which Israel had contended was used as a major base by Hamas, an accusation that the group and hospital staff deny.

Fears for the south

Israel’s bombardment and ground offensive have displaced more than 1.8 million people, nearly 80% of Gaza’s population, with most having sought refuge in the south, according to the U.N. Hundreds of thousands of people have packed into U.N.-run schools and other facilities, with many forced to sleep on the streets outside because of overcrowding.

Though, rain and cold winds sweeping across Gaza have made conditions even more miserable.

On Tuesday, Hanan Tayeh returned to her destroyed home in the central town of Johor al-Deek, scouring for any belongings in the wreckage.

“I came to get anything for my daughters. Winter has come, and I have nothing for them to wear,” she said. “It is cold, we are homeless.”

The cease-fire has allowed increased aid of 160 to 200 trucks a day into Gaza, bringing desperately needed food, water and medicine, as well as fuel for homes, hospitals and water treatment plants. Still, it is less than half what Gaza was importing before the fighting, even as humanitarian needs have soared.

Juliette Toma, a spokesperson for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, said people come to shelters asking for heavy clothes, mattresses and blankets, and that some are sleeping in damaged vehicles.

“The needs are overwhelming,” she told The Associated Press. “They lost everything, and they need everything.”

Michigan Plans To Have Carbon-Free Electricity by 2040

One of more than 4,000 solar panels constructed by DTE Energy lines a 9.37-acre swath of land in Ann Arbor Township, Mich., Sept. 15, 2015.

(LANSING, Mich.) — Michigan is implementing one of the nation’s most ambitious clean energy mandates, aiming to be carbon-free by 2040 in what is a pivotal test of the Democrats’ environmental goals in a state with a long-standing manufacturing legacy.

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

Michigan will join four other states in requiring utility providers to transition to 100% carbon-free energy generation by 2040 under legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The state has also set a goal for utilities to generate 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030, a significant leap from the current 12%.

The state-level mandates support the Biden administration’s goals of a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 and a net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.

The clean energy package, which was approved by Democrats in the Michigan Legislature this month, has been lauded by environmental groups. Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said she hopes Michigan’s plan serves as a model for other states.

“Michigan is at the heart of the industrial Midwest. What happens here sets the tone for what could happen all across this country,” Wozniak said.

Michigan ranked 11th in electricity consumption nationwide in 2021, with a majority of it coming from coal, natural gas and motor gasoline. Of the 12% produced through renewable sources last year, most came from winds that sweep across the Great Lakes.

A resource that naturally replenishes over time and is derived from solar, water or wind power is considered renewable. Under the package, clean energy includes renewable sources along with nuclear energy and natural gas. Natural gas can be used only if utilities capture and store the carbon emissions.

Meeting the 50% renewable energy goal by 2030, and 60% five years later, will require a massive buildout of utility-scale renewable energy resources in Michigan.

Just over 17,000 acres (6,880 hectares) of land in the state are currently used for wind and solar generation, according to Dan Scripps, chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission. Scripps told lawmakers during a Nov. 7 committee hearing that an additional 209,000 acres (84,579 hectares) of land will be needed for projects to hit the 60% renewable energy goal.

To achieve this, Michigan lawmakers will give the state’s Public Service Commission the authority to supersede local governments for the approval of these large projects.

The provision has quickly become the package’s most contentious element. A local government coalition, including the Michigan Association of Counties, has strongly opposed it, with the Michigan Township Association arguing it stifles the input of local officials and residents in communities where these facilities are set to operate for the next several decades.

Public reaction to the Democrats’ ambitious energy plan could have wide-reaching implications for the party in 2024. Michigan was a critical component of the Democrats’ “blue wall” that also includes Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and that helped Joe Biden win the White House in 2020.

The clean energy plan became possible only after Michigan Democrats last year flipped both chambers of the Legislature while holding power in the governor’s office to win full control of state government for the first time in four decades.

The legislation signed Tuesday will also increase energy efficiency requirements and raise the cap on rooftop solar from 1% to 10% of each utility’s five-year average peak load.

Connecticut, New York, Oregon and Minnesota all share Michigan’s timeline of being carbon-free by 2040 while Rhode Island has set a goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2033, according to the Clean Energy States Alliance.

Questions linger about how well the mandates will work and whether states will stick to the timelines. Michigan’s legislation includes a provision that allows for extensions on the requirements if “good cause” is shown.

What to Know About Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s Funeral


All living U.S. first ladies and multiple Presidents are expected to attend a tribute celebrating the life of former first Lady Rosalynn Carter, who passed away on November 19 at 96 years old. 

The private tribute on Nov. 28 is part of a three-day memorial service for the former First Lady taking place across Georgia this week, which began on Monday with a wreath laying ceremony at Carter’s alma mater, Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Ga. In the evening, the public was able to pay their respects as her remains lay in repose at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. The funeral will be held on Wednesday.

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

Here’s what to know. 

Who is expected to attend?

Former president Jimmy Carter, 99 and currently in hospice care, is planning to travel to Atlanta to attend his wife’s memorial service on Emory University’s campus.

He will be joined by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, along with their spouses. All the living former First Ladies — Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Melania Trump— are also expected to be in attendance.

Multiple members of Congress will be present, including both Georgia senators, along with members of the Emory community, with whom the Carters had a longstanding relationship.

Memorial and funeral service

Tuesday’s service will be an invitation-only tribute to the former First Lady. The service is expected to include some of her favorite Scripture passages and songs, along with tributes from Carter’s longtime aide and friend Kathryn Cade, journalist Judy Woodruff, and grandson Jason Carter. Her surviving grandchildren will serve as honorary pallbearers. 

The memorial service will be followed by a funeral on Wednesday in Plains, Ga., at the couple’s family home where she lived most of her life alongside her husband and former President Jimmy Carter. 

“We are doing exactly what she wanted at the service,” her grandson Jason Carter told CNN. “She would have been amazed and gratified by the outpouring of love and support.”

Read more

Read TIME’s obituary for Carter, a pioneering First Lady who worked tirelessly to raise awareness for those with mental health illness, here.

Read about Carter’s decision to hire a wrongfully convicted murderer to serve as White House nanny here—and how they became lifelong friends.

Read about Jimmy Carter’s secret to living to 99, according to his grandson, here.

The Dirty Secret Of Alternative Plastics

To deal with plastic waste, Avani Eco factory in Bali is producing alternatives

This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center’s Ocean Reporting Network.

In the three decades since it was first introduced, the plastic, coin-sized sticker you see on fruit and vegetables has become a staple of modern agriculture, imparting essential information about the grower, brand, country of origin, and even price of fresh produce as it crisscrosses the globe. The Product Look Up (PLU) label is designed to be briefly scanned then discarded, destined for landfill. There, it might last for hundreds of years, joining an endless accumulation of plastic packaging also intended to be removed after purchase and immediately jettisoned.

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

Like most single-use packaging, the stickers are not easily recycled. Those that don’t end up in landfill collect in the environment, and then often end up clogging up our rivers and oceans. According to the United Nations Environment Program, nearly a garbage truck and a half’s worth of plastic ends up in rivers, lakes, and oceans every minute. Eventually those plastics break down into micro and nano plastic particles that poison our air, the water we drink, and our bloodstream. Approximately 40% of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes, and little of it is easily recycled. Like the PLU sticker, it is used just once and then thrown away. Yet the long-term consequences are enormous: The production of plastic, 98% of which is sourced from fossil fuels, is the cause of some 10% of all global greenhouse-gas emissions.

One proposed solution is to replace these plastics with alternatives: biodegradable utensils, compostable wrappers, plant-based bottles, and compressed-fiber plates and bowls. Theoretically, these products could seamlessly slot into existing supply chains, requiring no sacrifice on the part of consumers, who are clamoring for more sustainable options. But production is limited in scale, more expensive than conventional plastic, and it’s not yet clear that the alternatives are actually better for human and planetary health: most plant-based plastics are, on a molecular level, identical to their fossil-fuel-sourced siblings and last just as long in the environment. Other substitutes require many of the same toxic chemical additives as conventional plastics to keep them waterproof, flexible, durable, and colorfast.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the infrastructure to ensure these bioplastics actually biodegrade or compost is very limited. That means that despite the best intentions of manufacturers and consumers, supposedly compostable plastic bags and supposedly biodegradable single-use cutlery may be causing just as much climate damage as conventional plastics. 

The future of such plastics, as well as the role of bioplastics in the global economy, is under negotiation. In November, representatives from 162 nations converged in Nairobi, Kenya, for INC-3, the third of five planned sessions for the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee to develop a global treaty to end plastic pollution, a kind of Paris Climate Accords for plastic. So far, the delegates have put forth a wide range of options, ranging from greater recycling capacity to a tax on manufacturers, which would go to global cleanup projects. Among the more ambitious proposals is for global production of virgin plastic to be slashed, largely through a reduction in single use products. Treaty negotiations are scheduled to conclude at the end of 2024.

Read more: Countries May Be Getting One Step Closer To Actually Tackling Plastic Pollution

A complete ban would not be enough to end the plastic scourge, but it’s a start. A new tool developed by the University of California Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, and the Benioff Ocean Initiative shows that a 90% reduction of single-use plastics would remove some 286 million metric tons of ocean pollution by 2050—the equivalent in water bottles stacked end-to-end would cover the distance to the sun and back nearly six times. (Marc and Lynn Benioff, who support the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory at UC Santa Barbara, also own TIME Magazine).

The composting complication

Practically speaking, there isn’t enough global supply of alternative materials to replace the amount of single-use plastic being produced today, and that may be a good thing, says Paula Luu, project director for the Center for the Circular Economy at impact investing firm Closed Loop Partners. That’s because, while plastic alternatives show a lot of promise, it won’t be realized unless their implementation is accompanied by an upgrade of current waste-collection systems, ongoing scientific research, and policy change. “Before we do a full switchover, we really need to focus on addressing a number of different challenges, including customer education, waste-recovery infrastructure, and the economic incentives to a full transition,” says Luu. “If it’s not done thoughtfully, with a whole-system view, it could result in unintended consequences.”

France’s effort to reduce single-use plastics is a case in point. In 2022, the country banned all non-compostable PLU tags. A win for French environmentalists, however, soon became a sticky problem for produce importers: in a globalized market where produce comes from all corners of the world, one country’s ban on plastic PLU tags only really works when every other country opts to do the same.

The technology exists—multinational fruit-labeling company Sinclair, among others, has been producing them for years—but the cost is higher given how cheap plastic is. A global ban on plastic stickers would certainly encourage competition and economic incentives, leading to lower prices for compostable versions. But without widespread access to composting facilities, most of those compostable stickers would end up in landfill anyway, where they could cause even more climate damage than conventional plastic. In a well-regulated composting facility, bacteria use oxygen to break organic materials down into carbon. In a landfill’s low-oxygen environment, that material creates methane as it decomposes, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Read more: Compostable Dog Poop Bags Aren’t Really That Compostable

The terms “biodegradable” and “compostable” are often misinterpreted to mean that the products will melt away in the natural environment, which is rarely the case. To meet a baseline standard of compostability, 90% of a PLU sticker, or a fork, for that matter, must break down into carbon matter within six to 24 months under carefully regulated heat and moisture conditions. But if you just tossed a supposedly biodegradable fork into your backyard, it could last almost as long as your typical plastic cutlery. In one 2019 study, researchers left compostable plastic bags buried in soil or submerged in seawater for three years as a trial. At the end, some of the bags were intact enough to carry a full load of groceries. Which means that without a dramatically ramped-up global system of collecting and processing biodegradable packaging, compostable is little better than plastic for the environment.

In the U.S., only 27% of the population has access to food waste composting programs, and only 142 out of the 201 industrial composting facilities nationwide that process food waste will accept compostable packaging as well, according to a new survey conducted by the composting website BioCycle and the Composting Consortium, a business group that promotes effective composting. That means that the country is producing far more compostable cups, plates, and take-out containers than it can actually process, says BioCycle’s editor and publisher, Nora Goldstein.

Facilities that are reluctant to take compostable packaging argue that they can’t always tell the difference between conventional plastics and compostable, and they don’t want to risk contamination. A compostable sachet of pre-washed salad greens looks just like a polyethylene produce bag, says Goldstein. “If I can’t tell the difference, and I am a composting professional, your average consumer is just as likely to throw a plastic bag in the compost as a compostable bag in the recycling.” Both are bad: When plastic ends up in compost, the facility can’t sell it, which threatens the financial viability of the project. And when compostable packaging ends up in a recycling facility, it can gum up the machinery or, depending on how it is made, taint the next batch of recycled plastic.

Plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean plant-friendly

Add plant-based plastics into the mix, and you have even more problems. Polyethylene terephthalate, the PET plastic used for most soda bottles (and also in many other single-use packaging products), is usually extracted from fossil fuels, but, in a process similar to turning corn into ethanol, it can also be manufactured from plants. The plant- and fossil-fuel-based versions are chemically indistinguishable—the only way to tell the difference is through radiocarbon dating (carbon molecules extracted from fossil fuels are older than ones that come from plants)—and like conventional PET, plant-based PET can be recycled.

But when consumers see a label saying a plastic is plant-based, “One in two Americans will say, ‘Oh, this belongs in a composting bin’,” says Luu of Closed Loop Partners, which recently conducted a survey of American attitudes to plastic alternatives. In other words, consumers might think they are doing the right thing, even if half of them are putting their plant-based PET products in the wrong place. Luu believes better labeling is the answer: “Just like we universally understand the stop sign, we should immediately understand that this package is compostable because it’s tinted green or is prominently labeled. If we don’t get labeling and design right, we could be creating problems for both the recycling and the composting industries.”

Another option, says Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO and co-founder of TIPA Corp, a multinational company producing a wide range of compostable plastic films and food packaging, is to go the fully compostable PLU route, and mandate, through global standards, that all flexible plastic packaging—sandwich wrappers, zipper bags, cling film, and shopping bags, for example—goes to the compost bin. TIPA’s technology, which is licensed to manufacturers around the world, can create compostable packaging for everything from dry cleaning to granola bars. The goal is for no one to ever worry about special labels, she says. “It will be intuitive. If it’s flexible, it will go in the compost with the banana peels.” On the other hand, if it’s rigid, like a soda bottle or a yogurt pot, it should go to recycling. 

The only problem is that while TIPA’s films are compostable, they, like many other compostable products, are still made partially from fossil fuels. The technology exists to make a fully compostable, fully plant-based plastic product, but it is far more expensive than conventional plastics, and does not always work as well, especially if it is used to package food items that are acidic, or liquid, or require long-term storage. Blending plant-based and fossil-fuel sourced plastics to create a compostable product lowers the cost and improves performance.

The truth: ‘carbon is carbon’

That is the dirty secret of so-called bioplastics, says Ramani Narayan, a chemical engineering professor at Michigan State University and an expert on alternative plastics. “Carbon is carbon, it doesn’t matter where it comes from when it comes to biodegradability.”

What matters is how the long polymer chains that make the plastic, no matter the source of carbon, are configured: insert oxygen molecules in the right place with the help of a chemical additive, and it opens the way for microbes that can accelerate decomposition. Compostability may help solve plastic pollution, but if compostable plastics are still made with fossil fuels, it does nothing to address the problem of carbon emissions.

Like conventional plastics, both plant-based and biodegradable versions—no matter their source—still need chemical additives to help with durability, fire resistance, waterproofing and colorfastness. Compressed fiber and paper plates, bowls, and cups are often lined with a plastic film to keep them from leaking. Those additives can be toxic for human health and dangerous for the environment, yet few have been studied.

Pennie Lindeque, head of science for marine ecology and biodiversity at the U.K.’s Plymouth Marine Laboratory, is currently trying to do just that, investigating how the breakdown process of biodegradable plastics impacts the ocean ecosystem. Marine creatures still mistake fragments for prey, and chemicals released in the process of breaking down might have unforeseen consequences for other kinds of ocean life, including coral. “Biodegradable materials could help reduce the impacts of plastic waste in the ocean. However, we must be sure that such materials, and the chemicals they contain, do in fact demonstrate little or no impact on organisms and ecosystems,” she says. We don’t want to, as she puts it, “jump from the frying pan into the fire.”

Read more: There’s Almost No Research on the Health Impact of Plastic Chemicals in the Global South

One of the most promising plastic replacements is polyhydroxyalkanoate, or PHA, which is made by fermenting plant sugars that come from beets, corn, and other vegetable waste, or even biogas from landfill, in a process similar to brewing beer. As with other naturally-occurring polymers like silk or cellulose, PHA products degrade into nontoxic components within months. They can also be shredded, melted, and reformed into new products. Different kinds of bacteria, some naturally occurring, others specifically engineered, are used instead of chemical additives to create properties such as flexibility and transparency.

According to chemists that specialize in plastic alternatives, most conventional plastics could theoretically be replaced by PHA, but its biodegradable qualities are better suited for single-use and disposable items. That said, PHA is currently expensive and time-consuming to produce—current global capacity is 100,000 metric tons a year, compared to the 430 million metric tons of conventional plastic produced annually. And even Anindya Mukherjee, co-founder of GO!PHA, a global PHA-focused business coalition, admits that it could have other drawbacks that have yet to be discovered. Indeed, there is a glaring absence of scientific oversight for pretty much all the current alternative plastic options, he says. “Right now, anybody can say anything they want about how good their product is for the environment. There needs to be a scientific advisory board as part of the INC process, one that will regulate the development and the proliferation of alternatives. Otherwise, we will always have this problem.”

Better science plays an important role, but it is not enough, says Christina Dixon, ocean lead for the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. To solve plastic’s underlying problem, we have to look beyond substitutes and rethink our reliance on disposable goods. “These new materials may seem like some sort of Holy Grail—walking and talking like a plastic without plastic’s impact—but all they are doing is shifting the burden somewhere else.” Instead, Dixon argues, we need to create circular systems that rely on reusable, refillable goods that last, instead of a linear trajectory from production through consumption to disposal. “Our goods should not be designed to end up in landfill, no matter what they are made of,” she says.

The alternative plastic world is a minefield, cloaked in sustainability marketing that at best is aspirational, and at worst causes as many problems as the products it is trying to replace. A ban on single-use plastics could level the playing field, allowing products that are better for the climate, for the environment, and for human health to rise to prominence. That also means questioning the very idea of disposability. That is, after all, what started all the problems in the first place. If plastic products were valuable, they probably wouldn’t end up polluting our oceans.

Why a Truth-Challenged GOP May Never Rid Itself of George Santos

Congressman George Santos Leaving Federal Court

This article is part of The D.C. Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox.

To find the closest historical precedent to what George Santos is about to face, you have to go back 21 years, when James Traficant was standing in the well of the House, spinning his latest colorful tale of victimhood, and dang was it a doozy. 

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

With his last chance to convince his colleagues not to kick him out of the House, Traficant had a laundry list of defenses at the ready. That the 10-count racketeering indictment against the Ohio Democrat was the result of a personal vendetta by former Attorney General Janet Reno. That there was no truth to the allegation that he was involved in a murder-for-hire scheme to eliminate a horse trainer who might testify against him. That Traficant had done nothing wrong when congressional staffers “voluntarily” worked on his farm and houseboat, and he only “borrowed” his aides’ paychecks in what prosecutors alleged was a kickback scheme that had staffers sliding cash under his office door. That Traficant allegedly had plenty of his pals confessing on tapes that the feds had bullied them into testifying against him, that one of those agents attempted to rape a constituent to coerce her to testify, and that a friend had seen his business curiously firebombed to destroy evidence that exonerated him.

“They didn’t allow witnesses to testify,” he lamented as the presiding officer repeatedly told Traficant to drop his blue language that, by today’s standards for profanity, seems quaint. “They allowed none of my tapes. All of my tapes were exculpatory.”

Maybe Traficant truly believed his conspiracy-tinged paranoia that July day back in 2002, his last in the House. Nonetheless, it was an embarrassing day for those of us who ever called Traficant’s Youngstown-based district home. In that northeast Ohio district, Traficant may have been the kook who ended his out-of-nowhere speeches with the Star Trek slogan of “beam me up” but he won re-election easily. I still have a flag that flew over the House as a graduation present from a man I once interviewed as a high school intern at The Warren Tribune-Chronicle; he knew how to keep the locals happy and when to feed the media appetite for colorful quotes that made it seem like he really mattered.

Yet as a newly convicted felon, his colleagues wanted Traficant gone and didn’t want to rely on Mahoning Valley voters to get it right. Traficant didn’t take the hint and used 30 minutes of floor time to mount a last-minute, long-odds pitch to keep his job, though at times he seemed to know his effort was doomed from the start. “I’m prepared to lose everything. I’m prepared to go to jail. You go ahead and expel me,” he said with contemptuous fatalism.

And they did. By a 420-to-1 vote, Traficant became just the second House member since the Civil War to be expelled from the House. It turns out, even Congress has the occasional limit to its patience.  

More than two decades later, the House will face the same question again: Has the behavior of one of their own gone so far as to warrant expulsion? Santos, a New York Republican, would be just the third House member to meet that fate since lawmakers expelled 10 Confederates from their ranks during the first year of the Civil War. Santos is accused of serial misconduct in a scathing bipartisan, 56-page ethics report that spans the deceiving of donors, the embezzlement of campaign cash, and the use of it on Botox and subscriptions to a website mainly used for porn. A resolution to expel him from Rep. Robert Garcia, a California Democrat, was expected Tuesday afternoon, and under the House rules he would merit a vote within two days.

Read more: What I Learned Investigating George Santos

But rather than argue his innocence as Traficant mostly did in his unhinged final appeal to his colleagues (notwithstanding his allegation that donors bought “Senators’ girlfriends gifts”), Santos seems determined to burn down the House as he heads toward the exits. In a three-hour rant on Friday on the platform formerly known as Twitter, Santos unfurled invectives, insults, and insinuations. While he was objectively accurate when he said lawmakers cast the occasional vote while drunk, he was on potentially shakier ground when accusing others of skipping work on the regular because they’re too hungover after a night of booze and sex with lobbyists.

“Within the ranks of the United States Congress, there’s felons galore, there’s people with all sorts of sheisty backgrounds, and all of a sudden, George Santos is the Mary Magdalene of the United States Congress,” posited Santos, whose reported drag name was not Mary Magdalene but rather Kitara Ravache.

In the days since that online rampage, Santos has told anyone who will listen that he’s heading toward expulsion, no matter what he does. He’s probably right. 

Still, there is a non-zero chance that some of his colleagues will stick with him. There are two reasons that lawmakers may summon for defending a fabulist with a dodgy understanding of campaign finance laws and a totally unmoored relationship with the truth: 1) the GOP majority currently stands at a paltry four seats and the odds Republicans can hold Santos’ district are slim at best; and 2) absent a criminal conviction, as Traficant had, some members may feel that even an Ethics Committee report as damning as this one isn’t enough to override the will of the voters.

That second justification could play with lawmakers who would be on the fence in other circumstances. After all, an ethics lapse isn’t unheard of in Congress. Facing 23 criminal indictments, Santos survived a first attempt to expel him. The effort fell well short of the two-thirds tally—291 votes—to expel him; only 179 members said he should go and another 19 simply said they were present. 

While Santos seems determined to become a parody of himself worthy of Bowen Yang’s yeoman work on Saturday Night Live, he may be playing the long game within a party where truth has become a standing victim. And that might be what feeds a third bucket of reluctant Santos apologists: he might never go away, and making him a victim only gives him an easier glidepath back to relevance.

On his way out the door in 2002, Traficant spun up a credulity-stretching tale explaining his innocence, offering up as evidence that the feds didn’t bother to tap his phones, didn’t have his fingerprints on dollar bills, and no FBI or IRS agents who investigated him ever testified against him. He added scores of non sequiturs as well, such as the fact the forensic accountant injured his groin in a courtroom accident and the spouse of the judge worked for a law firm representing one of the witnesses. To cap off his yarn, Traficant said that when pulled over late one night, he passed a field sobriety test meant to bust a political opponent. “There’s no physical evidence,” he said defiantly before saying his colleagues implicated in a House page sex scandal got to stay in power so he should, too. (The whole video is cringeworthy and a masterclass in political theater.)

A few months after his expulsion, the booted nine-term lawmaker still earned 15% of the vote from his Pennsylvania jail cell while running as an independent. After serving seven years of an eight-year sentence, Traficant tried to make another comeback as an independent. That time, in 2010’s Tea Party wave, he snagged 16% of the vote.

Which is why, while most of Washington is eager to rid itself of Santos, there is a slice of the population that believed Traficant’s nutty version of reality and will believe Santos’ claim that he is actually cleaner than most of his colleagues at the Capitol. After all, Santos is barely trying to defend himself against any of the numerous allegations against him, noting he has given 40 speeches, taken 100 meetings, cleared 1,200 constituent cases, and repeatedly defended President Donald Trump. Americans love a comeback story, and there will always be room on far-right platforms to reward a panderer, no matter how ridiculous the record.

Doubt it? A 91-times-charged ex-President who has his own tenuous relationship with reality is the far-ahead leader of the current Republican Party and, just seven weeks from the Iowa caucuses, is seemingly unreachable. If Trump can make a comeback while fighting four separate criminal cases and a raft of other legal troubles in the wings, Santos might believe he could do the same in miniature. Given the state of the current GOP, Santos could be making the most fact-based assessment of his political prospects in an alternative reality where facts are actual liabilities and fabricated credentials are strengths.

Make sense of what matters in Washington. Sign up for the D.C. Brief newsletter.

Why Europe Must Not Let AI Firms Put Profits Before People 

European Parliament Building

The soap opera-like ousting and swift return of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman produced plenty of fodder for ironic quips online but it also exposed some serious fault lines. One such critique I enjoyed was: “How are we supposed to solve the AI alignment problem if aligning just a few board members presents an insurmountable challenge?”

As the company behind ChatGPT, OpenAI may be one of the more recognizable names, but artificial intelligence is more than one company. It’s a technology of immense consequence, yet it remains almost entirely unregulated. The E.U. has a chance to meaningfully tackle that challenge—but not if it bends the knee to Big Tech’s ongoing onslaught. Inspirational Members of the European Parliament have so far been standing firm in the face of incredible pressure, in an effort to save this landmark legislation. On the weekend, E.U. Commissioner Thierry Breton spoke out against what he claims are self-serving lobbying efforts by France’s Mistral AI and other AI companies that do not serve public interest. These lawmakers need and deserve our support at this crucial moment.

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

Europe is poised to lead in a world that is waking up to the need to regulate AI. From the U.S. Executive Order to the recent AI Safety Summit hosted by the U.K. at Bletchley Park, countries everywhere are recognising that if we are going to share the benefits of this incredible technology, we must mitigate its risks. The E.U. AI Act will be the first comprehensive legal framework aimed at doing precisely this, but a handful of technology firms are holding the political process hostage, threatening to sink the ship unless their systems are exempt from regulation. To capitulate will damage European innovation, put profits before public safety, and represent an affront to democracy. Our lawmakers must not bend the knee. 

On Nov. 10 negotiations broke down after France and Germany pushed back against proposed regulation of “foundation models.” Together with Italy, they subsequently released a nonpaper that articulated these demands, asking that companies building foundation models only be subject to voluntary commitments. Foundation models are general-purpose machine learning systems, such as Open AI’s GPT-4 (which underpins ChatGPT), that can be subsequently applied to a large range of downstream applications and functions. Regulating these foundation models will force AI corporations to make sure they are safe before deployment, rather than waiting to act until after dangerous systems are released, which comes with clear danger of public harm. Given growing concern on the potential risks presented by these advanced systems, including mass misinformation, enabled bioterrorism, hacking of critical infrastructure, large-scale cyber attacks and more, this is a sensible provision to include.

Read More: E.U.’s AI Regulation Could Be Softened After Pushback From Biggest Members

We have seen first-hand the need for codified legal protections, rather than relying on corporate self-regulation. For example, the psychological harm wrought by social media on young women and girls has become increasingly apparent. The companies that ran the platforms and channels that hosted harmful content were aware of this damage for years yet failed to act. Voluntary commitments are neither sufficient nor reliable. We need prevention, rather than cure, if we want to stop people getting hurt. We need enforceable safety standards and risk mitigation for powerful AI from the start. 

So why the objection? Holdouts claim that it will hinder innovation for businesses who want to adapt and use AI, but this simply isn’t true. Regulating foundation models is essential for innovation as it will protect downstream smaller European users from the requirements of compliance, and from liability if things go wrong. There are only a handful of very well-resourced companies that are developing the most impactful foundation models, but there are thousands of small companies in the E.U. that have already adopted them for concrete business applications, and many more who plan to do so. We need balanced obligations across the value chain—the broadest shoulders should bear the biggest load.

This is reflected in the makeup of the opposing sides. The European DIGITAL SME Alliance, comprising 45,000 business members, wants to regulate foundation models. Two European AI corporations (France’s Mistral AI and Germany’s Aleph Alpha), along with a handful of giant U.S. firms do not. Their argument is also not borne out by real-world experience. My own country Estonia is bound by the exact same E.U. rules and regulations as Germany, yet has a vibrant and thriving startup ecosystem. If those who oppose regulation of foundation models, like Mistral’s Cedric O, are looking to point the finger, they must look elsewhere. In truth, while those opposing regulation claim to be protecting the E.U.’s innovation ecosystem, such a step-down would more likely transfer financial and legal burdens away from large corporations and onto startups, which have neither the ability nor the resources to change the underlying models.

France and Germany also claim that regulating foundation models will stifle Europe’s ability to compete in AI on the global stage. This doesn’t hold up. The tiered approach proposed, which is already a compromise between the Parliament and the Council of the E.U., allows for targeting so that competitors to major AI companies can emerge without onerous restrictions. European lawmakers should close their ears to fearmongering pushed by Big Tech and its newest allies, and remember the Act’s purpose: To achieve a fair and balanced framework that safeguards innovation while preventing harm. It must not be a legislative device for anointing a few Silicon Valley-backed AI leaders with sectoral supremacy and zero requirements, while preventing thousands of European businesses from maximizing the technology’s potential. 

The Parliament supports regulating foundation models, as do many in the Commission and the Council. The business community endorses it, as do the thousands of AI experts who have profound concerns about the dangers of these increasingly powerful systems if left unchecked. A handful of tech firms should not be allowed to hold our political process to ransom, threatening to detonate this landmark legislation and throw away three years of work. They must not be allowed to put their profits before our safety, and to put market capture before European innovation. 

Some Experts Say COPs Are ‘Distracting’ and Need Fixing

Climate activists protest at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Nov 19, 2022.

This story was originally published by Grist.

Diplomats, academics, and activists from around the globe will gather yet again this week to try to find common ground on a plan for combating climate change. This year’s COP, as the event is known, marks the 28th annual meeting of the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. More than 70,000 people are expected to descend on Dubai for the occasion. 

[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

In addition to marathon negotiations and heated discussions, the fortnight-long assembly will see all manner of marches, rallies, speakers, advocacy, and lobbying. But, aside from fanfare, it remains unclear how much COP28 will, or can, achieve. While there have been signs that the United States and China could deepen their decarbonization commitments, countries have struggled to decide how to compensate developing countries for climate-related losses. Meanwhile, global emissions and temperatures continue climbing at an alarming rate. 

That has left some to wonder: Have these annual gatherings outlived their usefulness?

To some, the yearly get-togethers continue to be a critical centerpiece for international climate action, and any tweaks they might need lie mostly around the edges. “They aren’t perfect,” said Tom Evans, a policy analyst for the nonprofit climate change think tank E3G. “[But] they are still important and useful.” While he sees room for improvements — such as greater continuity between COP summits and ensuring ministerial meetings are more substantive — he supports the overall format. “We need to try and find a way to kind of invigorate and revitalize without distracting from the negotiations, which are key.”

Others say the summits no longer sufficiently meet the moment. “The job in hand has changed over the years,” said Rachel Kyte, a climate diplomacy expert and dean emerita of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She is among those who believe the annual COP needs to evolve. “Form should follow function,” she said. “And we are using an old form.” 

Durwood Zaelke, co-founder and former president of the Center for International Environmental Law, was more blunt. “You can’t say that an agreement that lets a problem grow into an emergency is doing a good job,” he said. “It’s not.”

Established in 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an international treaty that aims to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst effects of climate change. Some 198 countries have ratified the Convention, which has seen some significant wins. 

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol marked the first major breakthrough, and helped propel international action toward reducing emissions — though only some of the commitments are binding, and the United States is notably absent from the list signatories. The 2015 Paris Agreement laid out an even more robust roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with a target of holding global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C (3.6°F) above preindustrial levels, and “pursuing efforts” to limit the increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F).

Although the path to that future is narrowing, it is still within reach, according to the International Energy Agency. But, some experts say, relying primarily on once-a-year COP meetings to get there may no longer be the best approach.

“Multilateral engagement is not the issue anymore,” Christiana Figueres said at a conference earlier this year. She was the executive secretary of the Convention when the Paris agreement was reached, and said that while important issues that need to be ironed out on the international level — especially for developing countries — the hardest work must now be done domestically. 

“We have to redesign the COPs…. Multilateral attention, frankly, is distracting governments from doing their homework at home,” she said. At another conference a month later, she added, “Honestly, I would prefer 90,000 people stay at home and do their job.”

Kyte agrees and thinks it’s time to take at least a step back from festival-like gatherings and toward more focused, year-round, work on the crisis at hand. “The UN has to find a way to break us into working groups to get things done,” she said. “And then work us back together into less of a jamboree and more of a somber working event.”

The list of potential topics for working groups to tackle is long, from ensuring a just transition to reigning in the use of coal. But one area that Zaelke points to as a possible exemplar for a sectoral approach is reducing emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.

“Methane is the blow torch that’s pushing us from global warming to global boiling,” he said. “It’s the single biggest and fastest way to turn down the heat.”

To tackle the methane problem, Zaelke points to another international agreement as a model: the Montreal Protocol. Adopted in 1987, that treaty was aimed at regulating chemicals that deplete the atmosphere’s ozone layer, and it has been a resounding success. The pollutants have been almost completely phased out and the ozone layer is on track to recover by the middle of the century. The compact was expanded in 2016 to include another class of chemicals, hydrochlorofluorocarbons.

“It’s an under-appreciated treaty, and it’s an under-appreciated model,” said Zaelke, noting that it included legally binding measures that the Paris agreement does not. “You could easily come to the conclusion we need another sectoral agreement for methane.”

Zaelke could see this tactic applying to other sectors as well, such as shipping and agriculture. Some advocates — including at least eight governments and the World Health Organisation — have also called for a “Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty”, said Harjeet Singh, the global engagement director for the initiative. Like Zaelke, Kyte, and others, he envisions such sectoral pushes as running complementary to the main Convention process — a framework that, while flawed, he believes can continue to play an important role.

“The amount of time we spend negotiating each and every paragraph, line, comma, semicolon is just unimaginable and a colossal waste of time,” he said of the annual events. But he adds the forum is still crucial, in part because every country enjoys an equal amount of voting power, no matter its size or clout.

“I don’t see any other space which is as powerful as this to deliver climate justice,” he said. “We need more tools and more processes, but we cannot lose the space.”

On Air Now

9:00pm - 12:00am



Upcoming Events