Jan 29, 2020

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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Today's edition is 1,299 words — or a 5-minute read. To start...

1 big thing: The new age of global pandemic risk
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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and the Chinese Health Ministry; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The collision of urbanization, population growth and the rapid movement of people and goods across borders is heightening global pandemic risk.

Why it matters: Aside from the tragic human cost, outbreaks such as the coronavirus, and the fear that accompanies them, are threatening to roil geopolitics and the global economy.

What's happening: A number of factors are exacerbating risk.

  • "Travel times have rapidly decreased," says Amesh Adalja, a doctor and emerging infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "Viruses can now spread at the speed of a jet rather than a steam-liner."
  • On top of that, growing populations and movement to cities are forming mega-metros — like Wuhan, China — where masses of people in close quarters make it easier for diseases to spread, he says.

At the same time, advancements in medicine are making us more resilient to new diseases.

  • We have more sophisticated hospital equipment, better antibiotics and antivirals.
  • China "has been fairly open in sharing genetic sequences," Tom Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations, told reporters on a call Wednesday. "That allowed for the development for a diagnostic. And the vaccine side is underway."

"The hysteria associated with an outbreak like this probably could cause more damage than the virus itself," Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told reporters.

The hysteria around the outbreak could even accelerate the ongoing "decoupling" of the U.S. and China, as American companies ponder moving their factories and supply chains out of the country to hedge against the risk of the pandemic.

The bottom line: It's crucial for health officials around the world to be as transparent as possible when dealing with such an outbreak, but the coronavirus cases come as tensions between Washington and Beijing are peaking.

  • China, though quick on some information sharing, has been reluctant to share other types of crucial data about the virus, U.S. health officials say. Advisers to the CDC told CNN they're lacking basic information about who's getting infected with the disease and how it's spreading.
  • "The main thing is to maintain trust and self-reporting. ... These are the kinds of things that snuff out outbreaks," says Bollyky. "It does seem like, in the early days of this, it was not gotten right."

Be smart: While this new strain of coronavirus has killed 132 people so far, this flu season took 8,200 lives in the U.S. alone, reports Axios' Bob Herman.

Go deeper with the latest on the outbreak from Axios' breaking news team.

2. The battle over 5G deployment in America's cities

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The fate of the national race to build 5G wireless service depends on how effectively the guts of the network — namely, hundreds of thousands of bulky antennas — are placed in cities, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Why it matters: While global tensions mount over pressure to build 5G networks as fast as possible, U.S. cities are in a fight of their own with telecom carriers and federal regulators over how new 5G antennas — or small cells — will be scattered throughout downtowns and neighborhoods.

Driving the news: Next month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, California, will hear the case between cities and the Federal Communications Commission over the placement of 5G antennas.

  • Dozens of cities have sued the FCC over its 2018 order requiring faster permitting and limiting the fees communities can charge wireless companies to install backpack-sized antennas on city property.

Context: Wireless companies say one of the biggest hurdles to deploying 5G networks is the need to negotiate with city officials for permission to install small cells and that some cities were charging excessive fees for access to city property.

The other side: City leaders, however, say the one-size-fits-all rules undermine their authority to charge market rates for property access. They also say the mandated fee structure weakens their leverage to negotiate wider 5G build-outs that, for example, cover poor neighborhoods as well as rich ones.

What's happening: Two Georgia towns, 10 miles apart in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, have drastically different reactions to the realities of deploying 5G networks:

  • Peachtree Corners, a city of 45,000, invested in early deployment of 5G in hopes it will bring new economic activity.
  • Brookhaven, a city of 57,000, is fed up with telecom companies' demands and is among the cities suing the FCC.

What's next: A decision in the lawsuit over 5G infrastructure placement is expected later this year. Until then, the litigation creates uncertainty for both cities and carriers during what is supposed to be a critical time for 5G rollouts.

"I don't think, sitting here in Washington, we have the right to tell cities what to do," said Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted against the 2018 order. "We've created a lot of anger in cities and states across this country who want to play a role in figuring out what the future of their infrastructure looks like."

Go deeper with Kim's full story.

3. Big Tech's climate critics

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Big Tech is getting greener — but that’s not keeping it out of climate advocates’ crosshairs, Axios' Ben Geman reports.

The state of play: Even as major tech companies announce new green ambitions — and evince existing ones — they're facing heightened pressure to walk the walk when it comes to their products and clients.

The big picture: New data shows that Google was the global leader in corporate renewable energy procurement last year, signing contracts for 2.7 gigawatts of capacity. The next three biggest buyers were Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, per a BloombergNEF report that underscores Big Tech's years-long push into renewables.

  • This month Microsoft also rolled out a suite of new policies — including a pledge to be carbon-negative by 2030 that encompasses its suppliers too.
  • Amazon toughened its climate plans and targets last September.

The other side: Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor, who heads the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, this week urged Google to curb false climate information on YouTube. She called for steps including...

  • Removing climate "denial" and "disinformation" from YouTube's recommendation algorithm.
  • No longer allowing users to monetize videos that "promote harmful misinformation and falsehoods" about climate.

Also this week, hundreds of Amazon employees, defying their communications rules, put their names on statements criticizing Amazon policies on climate (among other topics).

  • Amazon, Google and Microsoft all face attacks from both their own employees and outside critics — including Sen. Bernie Sanders — for offering sophisticated computing services tailored to help oil companies assess and extract resources.

The bottom line: Big Tech companies have some of the corporate world's most aggressive climate targets and programs. But this is hardly inoculating them against criticism.

4. Worthy of your time

Facebook's pop-up location last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

How Big Tech used Davos in 2020 (Ina Fried — Axios)

Free trade is dead (Peter Coy — Bloomberg)

Science ranks grow thin under Trump (Annie Gowen, Juliet Eilperin, Ben Guarino, Andrew Ba Tran — WashPost)

How the GOP became the party of the left-behind (Eduardo Porter — NYT)

The outsize influence of your middle school friends (Lydia Denworth — The Atlantic)

5. 1 fun thing: Where Americans want to move

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

A fascinating new project from the rental search platform Apartment List pulls together piles of data to show where renters in every U.S. metro are moving to and from.

Some of the big ones...

  • The top destinations for those leaving New York are Boston and Miami. And people moving to New York are primarily coming from D.C. and Philly.
  • Nearly a fifth of renters moving to San Francisco hail from San Jose. And the same share of those who leave the city are headed to San Jose.
  • Chicago residents are coming from New York and moving to Indianapolis.
  • Renters are leaving Riverside, California, for LA. And they're leaving LA for Phoenix or Vegas.
  • People moving out of D.C. are going to Philly and Baltimore in droves. And, predictably, they're moving to D.C. from NYC and Baltimore. (I'm actually moving to NYC from D.C. myself this week.)

Explore the data.

Bryan Walsh

Thanks for reading!