Welcome to The National Today, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here under "Subscribe to The National's newsletter," and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.
Adding up Alabama
The special election for Alabama's vacant U.S. Senate seat has been notably divisive and nasty — even by the new standards of American politics.
Polls suggest that Roy Moore, the Republican candidate, is poised to win this evening, despite allegations by five women that he was once a sexual predator — stalking and assaulting young teenage girls when he was a 30-something lawyer.
Moore, now 70, denies the charges and called them "ritual defamation" in a recent TV interview.
Last night, his wife Kayla took to the stage at a rally in Midland City, Ala., to push back against critics who have also accused her husband of making coded, anti-Semitic appeals during the campaign.
"Fake news would tell you that we don't care for Jews," she said, invoking what is colloquially known as the 'some of my best friends' defence. "One of our attorneys is a Jew. We have very close friends that are Jewish and rabbis, and we also fellowship with them in church and in our home."
There is no reason to doubt her, but the numbers suggest that the Moores move in a rare Alabama circle.
Fewer than one per cent of the state's 4.85 million residents identify as Jewish, compared to the 49 per cent who call themselves Evangelical Christians.
- Hispanics make up just four per cent of residents, versus almost 18 per cent nationally.
- 3.4 per cent of Alabamians are foreign-born, significantly below the 13 per cent in the rest of the nation.
Other thought-provoking figures:
- The state leads the country in concealed-weapons permits, and 20 per cent of its adult population packs heat, compared to 6.5 per cent nationally (or eight per cent if you factor out New York and California).
- Nine per cent of Alabamians described themselves as antique collectors.
- 28 per cent reported that they had made zero book purchases in the past year.
- One in 13 adults in Alabama — some 286,000 people — are unable to vote because of a prior felony conviction. In comparison, more than 70 million Americans — about 30 per cent of all adults — have been charged with a serious crime, according to the FBI (not all have been found guilty).
And Alabama boasts some of the toughest sex offender laws in America, with a mandatory life-long registry and stamps on driver's licences. Right now, 11,000 people are on the state's list.
Gas explosion shakes Europe
A huge explosion and fire at an Austrian gas plant this morning has sent financial shock waves through much of Europe.
One person was killed and 18 injured in the blast at Baumarten, about 50 kilometres from Vienna, near the Slovakian border.
The after-effects of the disaster may last for weeks. The large gas plant is a distribution hub, taking in supply from Russia and Norway and sending it on to Germany, France, Italy, Slovakia and Croatia. Last year, it handled 40 billion cubic metres of gas.
And the fire comes on the heels of another supply problem — a hairline crack that caused the shutdown of a major North Sea oil and gas pipeline on Monday.
Gas prices across Europe jumped today — up 35 per cent in the U.K. and a whopping 97 per cent in Italy, the Austrian facility's largest customer.
The government of Italy has declared an energy state of emergency, which will allow it to circumvent environmental regulations and run oil and coal power plants at full blast.
Temperatures in Italy are spring-like at the moment, but are forecast to plunge down to single digits next week.
World's garbage crisis is about to hit home
In Mombasa, Kenya, the locals are certain they know what caused a cholera outbreak that killed seven and sickened dozens in late November — the mounds of trash that have been piling up, uncollected for months.
There are also worries about illness in Monrovia, Liberia, where local garbage collection has broken down, just as the food markets kick into high gear for Christmas.
Surf the internet a bit and the world's waste problem quickly comes into focus. From the upscale Hyderabad, India suburb of Yousufguda, where rapid growth has turned "every vacant lot" into a dump, to the poorer parts of Lebanon where open burning is causing so many health problems that it's drawing the attention of human rights groups.
The root cause is urbanization.
- In 1900, only about 220 million people —13 per cent of the world's population — lived in cities.
- By 2000, that proportion had grown to 49 per cent and 2.9 billion people.
- By 2050, it's expected that more people will live in cities than the entire global population a half century before.
The world now produces 10 times more solid waste than it did a century ago.
Our trash is on track to double again by 2025 — growing to 2.2 billion tonnes a year. So much garbage that it will fill a line of trucks 5,000 km long each, and every, day.
It's a very visible and stinky downside of the world's rising standard of living. As people make more money, they buy more things and create more waste.
But anyone who believes that garbage is just a problem for the developing world is in for a rude awakening.
For years now, China has been helping the rest of us "go green," taking in much of the West's low-grade paper and plastic for recycling. It handled 7.3 million tonnes of plastics last year alone, from North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.
But in July, China notified the World Trade Organization that it is done taking other people's trash. It will ban the importation of 24 types of waste early next year, including glass and tires, citing environmental and public concerns.
What will that mean for Canadian municipalities in 2018? A domestic garbage crisis.
The Canadian Plastic Industry Association estimates that more than 20 per cent of the country's waste plastics were exported to the Far East in 2015 — but that might be a lowball figure.
In Quebec, 60 per cent of the province's recycling is currently sold abroad, mostly to China. In Halifax, 80 per cent of the bags and plastic films collected was being shipped overseas, but since China's announcement the municipality has been storing it. And now, short of space, Halifax is contemplating burying the plastics in landfills.
Canada's recycling industry is trying to ramp up domestic processing capacity, as are its counterparts in the U.S. and Europe.
The short term future, however, is looking a lot less green.
Quote of the moment
"I think we deserve our fair share. You go through a ward in East Royalty there and it looks like Santa's Village."
Charlottetown city councillor Bob Doiron, complaining that his ward has been short-changed when it comes to municipal Christmas decorations.
What The National is reading
- Right Whales die while Ottawa frets about 'high risk' rescues. (CBC)
- How Saudi air campaign targets Yemen's food supplies. (Guardian)
- UN special rapporteur on 'extreme poverty' finds it in America's biggest cities. (LA Times)
- Major gas pipeline explodes in Austria, Europe braces for shortages. (Deutsche Welle)
- Former Egyptian PM returns to Cairo to run for president, then disappears. (Al-Monitor)
- Motorcycle deaths increase when the moon is full, U of T study finds. (CBC)
Today in history
Dec. 12, 1976: Everything you ever wanted to know about Pong.
Marketplace investigates the "hot new technology" that allows you to bounce and bleep at home.