Century Marks

Century Marks

Church cover blown

As commodity prices soar, thieves are targeting British churches and other institutions, taking copper lightning rods, lead rain pipes, bronze statues, iron gates, even church bells and entire roofs. "Boom conditions in China, India and Brazil have created an incredible demand for lead and copper," said a representative of a private company that insures about 90 percent of churches in England and Wales. "Church roofs are often the target, threatening some churches with bankruptcy," she said. The price of copper came close to US$10,000 a ton earlier this year, having fallen as low as $2,825 a ton in December 2008 due to the financial crisis affecting demand (ENI).

Head of the class

Harvard comes out on top in a Times Higher Education ranking of the best 200 universities in the world. No British universities made the top five. In this ranking, less weight was given to tradition and reputation and more to objective measures such as the influence of research. This shift raised the rank of several Chinese and South Korean universities. The top ten universities are Harvard, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Princeton, Cambridge, Oxford, University of California (Berkeley), Imperial College London and Yale (Guardian, September 16).

Land rush

Large swaths of land are being secretly bought up by international investors, especially in Africa, according to Oxfam. Much of this land is used for growing sugar cane and oil palm for biofuels rather than for growing food. In Mozambique, for instance, only 32,000 out of 433,000 hectares of land approved for sale between 2007 and 2009 were used for food crops. These land purchases by outside interests leave the former inhabitants without sufficient land to meet their own needs (Guardian, September 22).

More stuff

Compulsive consumerism has come to dominate British family life, according to a study done by UNICEF UK. One mother reported that she thought her three-year-old son would be bullied if he didn't have a Nintendo DS games system at home. Parents are putting long hours into work and giving their children consumer goods as compensation. Children interviewed in the study said they would prefer more time with their parents. "We are probably the most secular society in the world, we do not have the counterbalance of religion," says Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood. From the time they are born children get the message that "the one thing that matters is getting more stuff" (Telegraph, September 14).

Food stuff

Global food prices have spiked twice in the last three years largely for two reasons, according to a study released by the New England Complex Systems Institute: increasing diversion of grain to ethanol production and speculation in the commodities market. Ethanol this year will consume 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop, which constitutes 16 percent of world corn production. With the deregulation of commodity futures in 2000, the futures market has become another place for speculative investments, resulting in huge spikes in food commodities. The authors recommend two steps to bring down and stabilize food prices: restore financial regulations in the commodities market and end ethanol production. "There is a moral imperative," says one of the authors of the paper (fastcompany.com, September 22).