Numlock News: August 20, 2019 • Sargassum, Pinecones, Nurdles
By Walt Hickey
Apple, a popular U.S. technology company whose key product is a blue text bubble that prevents its users from switching to Android, is trying to start up a media company. Though the initial investment was $1 billion for the first year of commissioned original content for Apple TV+, that figure has reportedly risen to $6 billion committed so far. The signature program will be The Morning Show starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, a product that has already eaten up “hundreds of millions of dollars alone” and on a per-episode price reportedly exceeds Game of Thrones. The service will also feature programming from up-and-coming fresh faces, such as the hot young director Steven Spielberg and a Chicago-area unknown named Oprah Winfrey, so now I’m beginning to understand why it cost a further $5 billion.
The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt
Sargassum is a brown microalgae in the Atlantic that’s having a massive growth right now, fueled by fertilizer runoff from Brazilian farming. The wads of seaweed are gross, they deplete the oxygen in water in some places and smell like rotten eggs. The “great Atlantic Sargassum belt” has been spotted by satellites since 2011, and stands at 20 million tons and growing. The seaweed is estimated to double in volume every 18 days. That’s bad news for beaches in the Caribbean and Mexico like the Riviera Maya, south of Cancun, which will see somewhere between 800,000 and 1 million tons of sargassum wash ashore. Resorts are even paying workers to clear it, dry the seaweed out, then use it as fertilizer inland.
Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources is paying top dollar for pinecones to replenish its seed stock at the end of each summer, and is looking for a younger generation to pick up the slack as its more seasoned pitchers hang up their burlap sacks. The state maintains a 150-acre facility where 3 million to 6 million seedlings are grown annually, most of which go to reforestation projects around the state. They need seeds to do it, and like to have a five year supply on hand of each species from each of six areas. A bushel of white pine cones fetches about $20, while the small, difficult-to-nab tamarack cones fetch $150 per bushel.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is strapped for cash and aid just ahead of hurricane season, and one reason why is that the agency has been activated to respond to small disasters that states almost certainly could have aided without calling in federal assistance. An analysis found that overestimating damage to states for small disasters triggered 325 unnecessary FEMA deployments since 1998 out of 647 disasters in the period. 129 deployments would have been avoided with accurate cost estimates. It’s about more than just money: in 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria caused $276 billion in damage and killed 3,167 people, but the day Harvey made landfall, 4,948 emergency workers (about half of FEMA’s workforce) were deployed elsewhere or unavailable. This is partly due to states spending less on emergency management, down to $466 million in 2017 from $2.1 billion in 2003. This isn’t over: there were 6,051 disaster workers available when Harvey made landfall in late August 2017. Yesterday, there were just 3,624 emergency workers available.
The golf equipment industry is worth $5 billion per year, and of that $420 million is golf balls alone. If that seems high, keep in mind it’s fairly normal for a golfer to lose a few balls over the course of a single round, while you have to be spectacularly bad at the sport to reliably emerge from the 18th green down a club or two. This has made the golf ball sector prime for disruption, as companies see golf balls as a new, reliable component in the subscription box space. Basically, marketers thought of the kind of person who uses every available subscription box advertised on a podcast from razors to underwear to custom apparel, and realized that consumer not only played golf but were also quite bad at it.
A French couple could face up to six years in prison and fines up to €3,000 after they were nabbed by Italian authorities smuggling 90 pounds of premium Sardinian sand out of the country. The silicate — loaded into 14 plastic bottles in the trunk of a car — is considered an asset of the public and a 2017 law made stealing sand, pebbles and shells from Sardinia illegal. They almost got clear past the border with it too, as their car was just about to board a ferry bound for France.
The Future Is (Coated) In Plastic
Before a plastic is molded at a manufacturer into the desired shape, it is first born at a petrochemical plant like the new one being opened by Shell north of Pittsburgh. There, petroleum or natural gas is turned into plastic, more specifically in the form of a “nurdle,” the tiny plastic pellets that both form the bedrock of manufacturing and also are a massive source of plastic pollution. A pound of plastic is formed from about 22,000 nurdles, and the new facility will make 1.8 million tons of plastic to the tune of 80 trillion nurdles annually. These are frequently lost in manufacturing and shipping; however, the petroleum business is investing heavily in production while gas prices fluctuate: by 2025, the oil and gas industry wants to increase plastic feedstock production by 33 percent.
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