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Under The Radar – 02 July

ZQ Lee on Unsplash

This week, we discuss:

  1. Tim Berners-Lee’s eye-watering NFT

  2. Blossoming relations between Israel and the UAE

  3. ExxonMobil’s lobbyists get caught out by Greenpeace

What in the NFT?

What happened?

Tim Berners-Lee has sold the original source code for the world wide web in the form of a NFT for a massive $5.4m at a Sotheby’s online auction.

What does it mean?

Berners-Lee’s sale is the latest in a series of high profile NFT auctions that underscore the growing influence of the crypto world; Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, flogged his first tweet as an NFT for $2.5m, the artist Beeple sold his digital artwork for a record $69.4m, and more recently Andy Murray announced the sale of his 2013 Wimbledon triumph.

NFTs, or ‘non-fungible tokens’, are digital assets encrypted using blockchain (the same code that underpins bitcoin). Basically, imagine you’re trading special edition sports player cards, but they’re digital.

The objective value of NFTs stems from the status of becoming the official owner of the original asset. The ‘token’ is essentially a guarantee of the digital work’s authenticity. The blockchain code is unique to the asset and proves that a particular item is one of a kind as well as enabling those who buy NFTs to claim ownership of an asset that could previously be easily and endlessly duplicated.

However, given the vast sums involved, a bubble threatens the NFT market. Some conservative commentators have branded it a ‘fad’, while the head of Christie’s auction house called people who buy them “mugs”.

NFTs are the wild west of the blockchain world, but their authenticating technology clearly could be valuable for the art world. Whether they turn out to be a digital disruptor, a get rich quick scheme for the already rich, or a passing fad; like bitcoin they won’t be going away anytime soon.

Israel & the UAE: Best Friends Forever?

What happened?

Yair Lapid, Israel’s new foreign minister, has concluded a landmark visit to the United Arab Emirates. Lapid opened the new Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi and a consulate in the commercial centre of Dubai. He held talks with his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and signed an economic co-operation agreement on behalf of Israel with the Gulf nation.

What does it mean?

The new Israeli power-sharing agreement will one day see Lapid become Prime Minister as part of a rotating premiership. Therefore, it is wise for the UAE to establish a rapport not only with the new government, but with the leader in waiting.

Since the Abraham Accords were signed last year, trade has boomed between Israel and the UAE, reaching $675.2 million in ten months. Business ties are expanding, while tens of thousands of tourists have flocked between the new partners.

Their new friendship faced its first litmus test during the Gaza crisis. Commentators were expecting considerable backlash from the Arab world, considering hundreds of Palestinians were killed in what has often proved to be a flashpoint in regional relations. But despite some condemnation from the UAE during the hostilities, the accords have remained intact, and Lapin’s visit suggests relations will continue to improve.

This is one area of Trump-era foreign policy that Joe Biden will be keen to build on. Indeed, the White House is reportedly laying the groundwork for more Arab states to normalise relations with Israel. While the Gaza conflict highlighted how America’s commitment to the Middle East has waned, expanding the Abraham Accords will help to stabilise the region and allow the U.S to focus on challenges in the Far East.

Climate (science) control 

What happened?

Unearthed, the investigative journalism branch of Greenpeace, recorded two ExxonMobil lobbyists admitting that they had worked to undermine environmental measures in President Biden’s infrastructure bill.

One of the lobbyists also told the undercover journalist that Exxon “aggressively” fought against climate science, funding shadow groups that cast doubt on global warming.

What does it mean?

Unearthed’s sting operation comes at a time when the oil and gas industry face a wave of lawsuits filed by cities and states across the US, demanding that it pay damages for changing weather conditions.

The nearly two dozen lawsuits claim that oil conglomerates accelerated the environmental crisis by suppressing warnings from their own scientists about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate.

A case filed in Minnesota against ExxonMobil alleges that their campaign of deception amounts to fraud. Minnesota’s attorney general, Keith Ellison, claims in his lawsuit that for years Exxon “spent millions on advertising and public relations because they understood that an accurate understanding of climate change would affect their ability to continue to earn profits by conducting business as usual.” The midwestern state has seen temperatures rise faster than the US and global averages.

These lawsuits will take years to be resolved but, in the meantime, they will significantly accelerate the downfall of oil companies’ standing in the court of public opinion. The discovery that companies knew their product was harmful heralds a seismic shift in the oil and gas’ industry’s ability to impact legislation, rivalling big tobacco’s downfall after it hid the real dangers of smoking.

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. ‘Iran’s balancing act: hardliners weigh social freedoms for stability’ by Andrew England and Najmeh Bozorgmehr for the Financial Times

  2. ‘Matt Hancock snog scoop and media law: Sleazy, sensational and in the public interest’ by Dominic Ponsford for the Press Gazette

  3. ‘Xi warns against Western “bullies”, to argue for one-party rule’ The Economist

  4. ‘Whatever happens in Batley and Spen – it’s shown that Labour’s problems run deep’ by Tom Harris for The Telegraph


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