Nov 27, 2018

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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1 big thing: Drought, migration, revolution

Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

In recent decades, climate change has exacerbated civil unrest, led to war, and put migrants on the road out of their countries, according to the National Climate Assessment released last week.

Why it matters: Until now, most climate assessments have focused on the threat to human lifestyles — to where and how we live. But the recent cycle of catastrophic fire, drought and floods, combined with the spread of extremist politics, suggests a new scale of danger to the developed and developing world.

The big picture: The 1,656-page volume, released by the Trump administration although disavowed today by the president himself, says that extreme weather can trigger a cascade of crises, culminating in conflict, including revolution.

One danger: Some 13 million Americans — equivalent to the combined population of New York and Los Angeles — could be forced to migrate from where they live because of a forecast sea-level rise of 6 feet by 2100, the report says.

The report cites a history of examples:

  • In 2010, a wide-scale drought helped lead wheat prices to double — and, in countries like Egypt and Syria, bread prices to triple.
  • The following year, the Arab Spring struck in both countries and, in 2015, migrants poured out of Syria to Europe.
  • "While the 2010 droughts were not the sole cause of the [Egyptian] revolution, they contributed to destabilization of an already unstable region," the report says.

As we have written earlier, migration has been a key factor in the shakeup of politics around the world. In Europe, it has resulted in the fall of governments, including most recently the retirement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Opposition to migration is a pillar of Trump's politics.

The bottom line: The report says, "Whether migration in response to climate change will generally cause or exacerbate violent conflict is still uncertain." However, extreme weather and migration have occurred hand in hand around the world:

  • Philippines: In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan pushed some 4 million people out of their homes. Six months later, more than 200,000 of them were still in makeshift shelters.
  • Houston: In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey submerged and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of Texans. Some 32,000 people were forced into shelters. It caused an estimated $100 billion in damage.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: Climate change is forecast to hit the poorest parts of the world the worst. Researchers expect long-term drought and extreme heat to trigger mass waves of migration from sub-Saharan Africa to the north in the coming decades and beyond.
2. Musk's new near-death experience

Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty

A lot of people have forecast an electric car revolution. But there is only a single data point showing they may be right — sales at Elon Musk's Tesla Motors. In September, Tesla was the fourth-biggest seller in the U.S. luxury car market — ahead of Audi. No other electric came close.

Much of that success lies with the mainstream-priced Tesla Model 3, which Musk has spent the year scaling up to something approaching mass-market numbers.

"Essentially, the company was bleeding money like crazy," Musk said. "And just if we didn't solve these problems in a very short period time, we would die. And it was extremely difficult to solve them."

  • Asked how close to death Tesla came, Musk replied: "I would say within single-digit weeks."

Why it matters: Musk’s admission shows just how dire conditions became at a company that is synonymous with him, and that many regard as the key to any electric car revolution.

Is Musk exaggerating? We can't know. But his description of a near-death experience gibes with the talk all year among short-sellers and others on Wall Street, who were sure Musk was headed to bankruptcy.

Instead, a month ago, Tesla caught the critics off balance with a third-quarter profit. Its share price surged. Today too — even after the news of his disclosure to "Axios on HBO" — Tesla's shares closed up more than 6%.

3. Brick-and-mortar's shift

Solemn Santa at the mall. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty

Malls have a certain romance during the weeks before Christmas: Sparkling green and red ornaments hang from ceilings and Mariah Carey chart toppers ring from speakers, while children line up to take pictures with Santa Claus.

  • But that's not enough to get shoppers to stores — and larger parts of the party are moving online.

Axios' Erica Pandey writes: While brick-and-mortar continues to dominate shopping numbers, the trend is decidedly online — foot traffic was down this year, reports CNBC. So to fend off Amazon, traditional retailers are surrendering at least in part to the inevitable — putting their in-store deals online.

  • "Brick and mortars are finally realizing, 'You know what? We have to be agnostic as to where we get the sale. We just want the sale,'" Moody's retail analyst Charlie O'Shea told Retail Dive.

By the numbers:

  • Online sales raked in $6.2 billion on Black Friday. That's a 23.6% increase from last year, per Retail Dive.
  • The boom continued over the weekend. Saturday saw a 29.9% year-over-year increase in online sales; Sunday, 22.9%, according to an analysis by Verizon Enterprise Solutions.
  • Shoppers are projected to spend a record-breaking $7.8 billion by the end of today, Cyber Monday, per Bloomberg.

But, but, but: Smaller stores will find it difficult to compete with Amazon on speed and price. The tech giant is offering free shipping all holiday season, regardless of Prime membership.

  • Amazon's rivals, Walmart and Target, are scrambling to compete. Target reported slower-than-expected growth in the third quarter and chalked it up to large investments in speedier shipping.
4. Worthy of your time

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Second-tier cities with first-rate job figures (Shayndi Raice — WSJ)

D.C. braces for affordable housing crunch (Kim Hart — Axios)

Iran's web of oil smuggling (Henry Foy, Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, David Sheppard — FT)

China's complete surveillance and social plan (Claire Che, David Ramli, Dandan Li — Bloomberg)

Meteorite death 3,700 years ago (Bruce Bower — RealClearScience)

5. 1 illusive thing: AI police are fooled

Not driving: Dong Mingzhu, chairwoman of Gree Electric. Photo: VCG/Getty

The face of Dong Mingzhu, the high-profile chairwoman of Chinese appliance-maker Gree Electric, is everywhere in her country — on TV, in conferences and in outdoor ads. Last week, that ubiquity flustered an artificial intelligence system — a surveillance camera that thought it had caught Dong red-handed for running a red light.

What really happened: Last Wednesday, in the northeastern city of Ningbo, a facial recognition system detected Dong in a traffic violation. Only, it turned out not to be the live, breathing Dong, but an image of her plastered to the side of a bus, writes Tang Ziyi for Caixin Global.

The bottom line: "The police said they have upgraded their tech to avoid issues like this in the future," Tang writes.

Bryan Walsh