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China’s Population Growth Slows Down

China has recorded the slowest growth rate of its population since the 1950s. The most populous country in the world grew only 5.4% in the last ten years. Experts say that the population will be leveling off or maybe even shrinking in the next decade.

Currently, 1.41 billion people live in China, only slightly more than in the second most populous country, India. In 2020, only 12 million babies were born, compared to 15 million a year earlier. On average, every Chinese woman gives birth to 1.3 children.

One of the main reasons for China’s declining birth rate is the country’s one-child policy, which has been in effect for decades. It was introduced at the end of the 1970s in an attempt to stop the country’s exploding population. Today, however, the government is encouraging families to have more than one child.

The country’s low birth rate and high proportion of elderly people will cause problems in the near future. Chinese authorities are afraid there will not be enough young workers for the booming economy. In addition, almost 20% of the population is over 60, resulting in higher health care costs and more money the government needs to pay for pensions.

Chinese family with one child in a park in Beijing
Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Words

  • attempt = try
  • authorities = the people who are in power in an organization and can make decisions
  • billion = a thousand million = 1,000,000,000
  • birth rate = the number of babies born for every 1,000 people per year
  • booming = growing very strongly
  • currently = at the moment, right now
  • decade = ten years
  • decline = go down
  • elderly = older
  • encourage = to get someone to do something
  • exploding = here: growing fast and out of control
  • growth rate = here: how fast a country’s population grows
  • health care = the services that a country uses to keep its population healthy
  • however = but
  • in addition = also
  • in effect = to be law
  • introduce = start
  • level off = stay the same; not grow anymore
  • most populous = with the most people
  • near future = soon
  • on average = here: if you count all the women in the country
  • pension = the money a worker gets from the government when he is too old to work
  • policy = the government’s way of doing something
  • proportion = part of the whole
  • record = to write down information and keep it for later generations
  • resulting in = leading to
  • shrink = go down
  • slightly = a little

Cyberattack Shuts Down US Pipeline

An international hacker group has attacked the computer systems of an important US fuel pipeline. The cyberattack forced operators to shut down most of the systems of the pipeline. It is the largest attack on existing infrastructure in US history.

Colonial Pipeline pumps 2.5 million barrels of fuel from the Houston to the eastern coast every day. It supplies the major population centers and airports.

According to the FBI, the relatively new hacker group DarkSide is responsible for the attack. It is reported to be Russian-operated but has no connections to the Russian government. Days after the attack, Colonial Pipeline confirmed that it had paid $4.4 million in ransom money to unlock the pipeline. As a result of the attack, panic-buying led to gas shortages in many areas of the eastern coast.

Ransomware attacks have been increasing steadily for some time. 2020 was the worst year in the history of cyberattacks.

Authorities are concerned about how vulnerable American infrastructure is. Especially since the pandemic started, more and more workers have been working from home, making it easier for hackers to get into the systems.

Words

  • according to = as said by …
  • attack = here: to put bad code into a computer system, so that it doesn’t work anymore
  • authorities = people who are in charge of an organization
  • barrel = unit to measure oil = 159 liters
  • concerned = worried
  • confirm = to say that something is true
  • connection = link, tie
  • cyberattack = to use the Internet to get into a computer system and damage it
  • force = to make someone do something
  • fuel = here: gasoline or diesel
  • increase = to go up
  • infrastructure = important systems that a country needs, like, roads, railways, bridges, pipelines etc…
  • major = important
  • panic-buying = when people buy more things, because they think there won’t be enough in the future
  • pandemic = disease that affects people in many parts of the world
  • population centers = cities and areas in which many people live
  • ransom money = money that is paid to a hacker group to make the computer systems work again
  • ransomware = software that someone puts into your computer so that it doesn’t work the way it should; the attacker demands money to unlock it
  • responsible = here: to carry out
  • shortage = not enough of something
  • shut down = stop from working
  • supply = to bring from one place to another
  • unlock = to make something work again
  • vulnerable = weak; can easily be damaged

South Carolina Allows Execution By Firing Squad

South Carolina has become the fourth U.S. state to allow an alternative method of execution. Death row inmates can now choose to be killed by a firing squad.

Many states have had problems getting drugs used for lethal injection, which is the standard form of execution in most states. Many manufacturers do not want their products used in executions. Now, South Carolina has passed a law making the electric chair the primary execution method if drugs for lethal injection are not available. Alternatively, inmates can opt for being executed by a firing squad. South Carolina has not carried out an execution since 2011.

The electric chair has been a controversial topic for many years, as those opposed to the death penalty say that it is an inhumane way of killing people.

The firing squad is currently allowed as a form of execution in three other states. Since 1970, three such executions have taken place. On a global scale, eight countries execute people by firing squad, including China, Iran and North Korea.

Although widespread discussion about capital punishment in the United States still going on, public support for the death penalty has gradually decreased. At the moment, the death penalty is allowed in 24 states.

Capital Punishment By States Since 1970
States in black have abolished the death penalty in the year shown on the map
Fluffy89502, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Words

  • alternative method = a different way
  • although = while
  • available = here: can be used or bought
  • capital punishment = when the state or government kills someone who has committed a crime
  • carry out = to do something that needs to be planned
  • controversial = much discussed with many opinions
  • currently = now, at the moment
  • death row inmate = prisoner who is waiting to be executed by a state or the government
  • decrease = go down
  • drugs = here: substance used for lethal injections
  • execution = if a state or the government kills a person as a form of punishment
  • firing squad =group of people who punish someone by shooting and killing them
  • global scale = around the world
  • gradually = slowly
  • including = also
  • inhumane = cruel and not acceptable
  • lethal injection = killing someone by putting a mixture of deadly drugs into their body
  • manufacturer = here: producer of drugs
  • opposed to = against
  • opt for = choose
  • primary = main
  • public support = here: all the people who agree with something
  • widespread = here: among many people

London City Airport Operates By Remote Control

London’s City Airport has become the first major commercial airport in the world to become fully remote controlled. Normally, air controllers sit at the top of a tower at the airport. At City Airport they are operating take-offs and landings from 70 miles away. It is the first time remote-control technology is used at a commercial airport.

Air traffic controllers can see everything that happens from 14 cameras that sit atop a 50-m high tower. The cameras record everything that happens on the runways and can be set to pan around and zoom in on certain areas. Controllers also receive weather and aircraft information on their screens .

The technology was developed by a Swedish company and has been tested at Swedish airports. Several backup systems provide security in case the something goes wrong with the main computers. British authorities claim that the new technology is safe and will make operating an airport more efficient.

Aerial view of London City Airport
Ercan KarakaƟ (GFDL or GFDL), via Wikimedia Commons

Words

  • aircraft = airplane
  • air traffic controller = someone whose job it is to give instructions to pilots by radio
  • atop = on top of
  • authorities = the people or organizations in control of something
  • backup systems = computers that start working when the main computers are damaged or don’t work the way they should
  • claim = to say that something is true
  • commercial = used by businesses, not military or private
  • develop = make something new for the first time
  • efficient = to work in a better way
  • fully = completely
  • major = important
  • pan around = to move around and follow an object
  • provide = give
  • receive = get
  • remote-controlled = operating or working on something from a distance
  • security = things that are done to protect something
  • set = here: instructed, programmed
  • several = here: a few

China Launches First Module of Space Station

China has successfully launched the first module of its space station, called Tianhe or Heavenly Harmony, from the island of Hainan. The module contains the living quarters for crew members.

After 10 missions to deliver parts to low Earth orbit, China’s space station is expected to be fully operational by 2022. It will be used for scientific and medical experiments. 12 astronauts are currently training to live in space for a longer period of time.

China’s space station will not be as large as the International Space Station ISS, but similar to the Russian Mir space station which was in operation between 1986 and 2001.

The construction of its own space station is seen as a further step in China’s ambitious billion-dollar space program. The first satellite was launched in 1970 and the first manned mission was carried out in 2003. Recently a lunar probe has brought back the first samples from the moon since the 1970s.

Illustration of the Chinese Space Station and its modules
Saggittarius A, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Words

  • ambitious = if you really want to be successful in doing something
  • currently = at the moment
  • deliver = bring
  • further = another
  • launch = here: to start a rocket into space
  • living quarters = rooms where the astronauts live
  • lunar probe= unmanned spaceship that landed on the moon
  • manned mission = space flight where people are on board
  • module = part
  • operational = working and ready to be used
  • orbit = to move around a planet
  • recently = a short time ago
  • samples = here : rocks from the moon
  • satellite = object that is sent to space and moves around the Earth, moon or other planet
  • similar = like

Portugal Opens World’s Longest Suspension Bridge

The world’s longest pedestrian bridge opened on Sunday in Arouca, in northern Portugal. The suspension bridge spans 516 meters across a canyon of the Paiva river. It hangs on steel cables connected to two massive towers. Tourists who walk on the bridge can watch the fast-moving river over 170 meters below them.

The mayor of Arouca hopes the new bridge will be an additional attraction to the Arouca Geopark, a region where tourists experience all kinds of outdoor adventures, including hiking , rafting, biking and other activities.

The bridge cost 2.3 million euros and was completed in 2 years. The previous record for the longest pedestrian suspension bridge was held by Randa in the Swiss Alps.

Arouca Geopark in Northern Portugal
Ricardo Oliveira, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Words

  • additional = extra
  • canyon = deep valley with very steep sides that has a river running at the bottom
  • completed = finished
  • experience = here: something great that happens to you
  • hiking = taking walks in the mountains
  • massive = very large and heavy
  • mayor = person who is the head of a city
  • pedestrian= someone who is walking
  • previous = earlier, up to now
  • rafting = travelling in a raft on a fast-moving river
  • span = distance from one side to the other
  • steel = very strong metal
  • suspension bridge = bridge that hangs from heavy steel ropes that are connected to towers

2020 US Census Shows Texas The Big Winner

The population in the United States has grown to 331 million, an increase of about 7%, over the past decade. However, it is the slowest growth rate since the Great Depression between the two world wars.

The census, taken every ten years, has an impact on the Electoral College, and, as a result, the outcome of the presidential election.

The 2020 census shows that Texas is the big winner with the largest growth rate. 29 million people live in the state, whose population increased by 16% since the 2010 count. The southern state gained 2 seats in the Electoral College. One reason for the change may be the fact that more and more high-tech companies are leaving Silicon Valley and setting up headquarters in Texas.

For the first time in history, California’s population has actually decreased. Falling birth rates and more Californians leaving the state for other destinations have led to a loss of one electoral college seat.

According to the census, more and more Americans are leaving the northeastern US and the Midwest and heading towards in the sun-belt states of the south. Apart from Texas, Florida is another winner and has gained one seat.

The results of the census could increase Republican chances of winning back the White House in 2024, as typically Democratic states like California and New York have lost Electoral College seats while Republican strongholds have gained a few.

Census sign in a yard in Ohio
Blervis, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Words

  • according to = as reported by …
  • birth rate = the number of people born for every 1,000 people in a certain place every year
  • census = the act of counting the number of people in a country
  • count = here: counting of the population
  • decade = ten years
  • decrease = to go down
  • destination = place to go to
  • Electoral College = group of people chosen by each state, who come together to elect the President of the United States
  • gain = get, receive
  • Great Depression = time after the Wall Street crash of 1929 in which banks and companies closed, and many people were out of work
  • growth rate = the speed at which something gets bigger
  • heading towards = moving in a certain direction
  • headquarters = the main building or offices that a company has
  • however = but
  • impact = influence
  • increase = to go up
  • loss = to lose something
  • outcome = results
  • population = the people who live in a country or state
  • Silicon Valley = area around San Francisco which is known as the center of the computer and high-tech industry
  • stronghold = area where you have a lot of support and many voters

35 Years After Chernobyl Disaster

35 years ago, the worst nuclear disaster in history happened at the power plant at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union. A failed safety test caused the nuclear reactor in Block 4 to become unstable. As a result a chain reaction caused the core to explode. Fire spread out over the entire compound. Two people were killed in the explosion, over 30 workers officially died of radiation sickness. It is not known how many people died in the months and years that followed.

The Soviet authorities hid the truth about the explosion and did not warn other countries. A nuclear cloud spread across Europe for more than a week. Almost half a million people had to leave their homes.

The accident led to a worldwide debate on the safety of nuclear energy. It may have also been one of the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union a few years later.

After the clean-up the remaining reactors at Chernobyl continued to produce electricity for some years before the whole power station was shut down by Ukrainian authorities in 2000. A sarcophagus was built around Block 4 to prevent radioactivity from escaping. In 2017 a new steel structure was built to ensure more safety. The whole site is expected to be completely decommissioned by 2065.

Today, the area is still affected by radiation. Even though there is a 30 km exclusion zone a special kind of tourism has emerged. People from all over the world are coming to see the remains of the catastrophe and observe the wildlife in the region. The Ukrainian government is planning to use the area as a site for nuclear waste.

Reactor 4 months after the disaster
IAEA Imagebank, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Words

  • affected = here: there is still dangerous radiation
  • authorities = the people who are in control of a certain part of a region
  • caused = led to
  • causes = reasons
  • chain reaction = event that produces more and more energy in an uncontrolled way
  • collapse = breakdown; if something does not exist anymore
  • compound = a set of buildings
  • core = the central part of a nuclear reactor
  • decommission = to stop using the power plant and tear it down
  • disaster = a sudden event that causes a lot of damage and kills people
  • emerge = come up, appear
  • entire = whole
  • exclusion zone = area that people are not allowed to enter because it is dangerous
  • failed = something that did not work
  • former = earlier, once
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • nuclear energy = the energy you create when you split atoms
  • nuclear waste = leftover material from nuclear reactors
  • officially = as said by the government
  • power plant = one or more buildings that produce electricity
  • prevent = stop
  • radiation sickness = illness that is caused when your body gets too much radiation
  • radioactivity = the sending out of radiation when an atom is split
  • remains = what is left
  • sarcophagus = here: a structure that is put over the reactor so that dangerous radiation cannot escape
  • shut down = to close something
  • Soviet Union = the largest communist country that existed between 1917 and 1991
  • spread = travel, move across
  • unstable = something that may suddenly change and become worse
  • wildlife = the animals that live naturally there

Scientists Develop New Effective Malaria Vaccine

For the first time in history scientists have made a major breakthrough in malaria treatment. In a lab in Burkina Faso scientists from Oxford University have created a vaccine that is 77% effective in treating the deadly disease. Up to now researchers have only been able to come up with a vaccine that is about 50% effective.

The experimental vaccine, given to 450 small children, showed promising results. Now scientists plan to treat 5000 children with the new drug in the last phase of the trial. If all goes well, millions of doses of the vaccine will be produced in India.

Malaria is one of the deadliest diseases on our planet. Over 200 million people suffer from the illness that is transmitted to people by mosquitos in tropical regions. It kills over 400,000 people each year, mostly children in Africa. According to the World Health Organization, malaria has turned out to be even deadlier than COVID-19 in Africa.

A malaria vaccine is very difficult to develop because its structure, compared to the coronavirus, is very complicated.

Child with malaria in Ethiopia
Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Words

  • according to = as said by …
  • breakthrough = an important new discovery that you work on for a long time
  • develop = create or make something new
  • effective = when something works the way it should
  • experimental = used as an experiment
  • promising = here: hopeful, very good
  • researcher = someone who studies a topic and tries to find out new facts about it
  • scientist = a person who is trained in science and often works in a lab
  • transmit = to pass on to a person or animal
  • treatment = something that is done to cure someone who is ill
  • trial = test to find out if something works or not
  • vaccine = liquid that has a weak form of a virus and can protect people from becoming ill