View Email Online Subscribe to Newsletter29 September 2018
The inhabitants of planet Earth are quietly conducting a gigantic experiment. We play Russian roulette with climate and no one knows what lies in the active chamber
People are angry. They feel that nobody is listening to their pain. One result is that in Europe, in Russia, in the Middle East, in Asia and elsewhere we are seeing movements led by demagogues who exploit people’s fears, prejudices and grievances to achieve and hold on to power
27% of forest loss is due to expanding agriculture
26% for forestry products, paper, wood chips
23% from wildfires
24% from expanding agriculture
1% from urbanisation (as nearby forests already lost).
Donald Trump slashed US corporate tax rates from 35 to 21 per cent, driving record share buybacks and CEO bonuses at the expense of wage growth for the rest of us
Make no mistake, this new PM stood by the last one just like he stood by the one before. Like Brutus stood by Caesar.
Joe Aston, Myriam Robin
Israel made a huge blunder when its jets allowed for a Russian surveillance plane to be used as cover, leading to the loss of 15 Russian servicemen’s lives. Russia had allowed them to freely target any threat to Israel without any real resistance. Now, Israel’s pilots will have a lot more to deal with when carrying out missions. But Israel’s real bitter pill is that the Russian jet incident has given a huge boost to Iran, both within Syria and in the region.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
The People v. The State
None of these investments are government projects. They come from business decisions that are driving solar onwards and upwards, irrespective of the short-sighted fantasy coal-driven attitudes of our pollies.
Queensland: as another 16 solar projects queue to join grid
13 large scale solar farms have been built or are under construction in an “unprecedented wave” of renewable energy investment. This had already brought $1.3 billion in investment and almost 1,500 construction jobs to Queensland, and more than 650MW of renewable energy to the grid. And the good news is there’s more to come, with another 16 solar projects on the way bringing $3.4 billion dollars and 2600 jobs to regional and rural locations right across the state. Read more
Tesla big battery defies skeptics, sends industry bananas over performance
Critics said it couldn’t be done. Batteries can’t be that big. They can’t be built that quick. They won’t work. Ten months on from its installation, the Tesla big battery has emphatically proven its worth – faster, quicker, more accurate, more reliable and more flexible than even the market operator thought possible. More importantly, it has given a glimpse of the future, how a grid can be effectively managed with a very high share of wind and solar – not just faster, but also cleaner, smarter and more reliable than the dumb and ageing fossil fuel grid we now depend on, and which has become victim to endless market rorting from the industry incumbents. So much so that it may turn out to be the best value investment that the South Australia Labor government ever made, although their political opponents may be reluctant to admit it. Read moreWhile economic growth continues we’ll never kick our fossil fuels habit
We’re getting there, aren’t we? We’re making the transition towards an all-electric future. We can now leave fossil fuels in the ground and thwart climate breakdown. Or so you might imagine, if you follow the technology news. So how come oil production, for the first time in history, is about to hit 100m barrels a day? How come the oil industry expects demand to climb until the 2030s? Why have investments in Canadian tar sands – the dirtiest source of oil – doubled in a year? The answer is, growth.
There may be more electric vehicles on the world’s roads, but there are also more internal combustion engines. There be more bicycles, but there are also more planes. It doesn’t matter how many good things we do: preventing climate breakdown means ceasing to do bad things. Given that economic growth, in nations that are already rich enough to meet the needs of all, requires an increase in pointless consumption, it is hard to see how it can ever be decoupled from the assault on the living planet. Read more Hydrogen-powered trains are now running in Germany
Hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity by combining hydrogen with oxygen, and their only byproduct is water. That makes the cells a promising energy source that produces zero emissions and very little noise. Though they remain pricey, hydrogen fuel cells have advantages over batteries. Instead of recharging, for instance, you can just refuel them like you would a gas or diesel engine. And because train schedules are predictable, it’s easier to build refueling infrastructure. Read moreItaly’s latest gift to electric vehicles: cute, zippy and barely a car
By the end of the year, the first of 8,000 Microlino ultra-compact vehicles will be unleashed onto European roads.The tiny 450kg vehicle is officially classed as a ‘quadricycle’ under European law. One thing is sure though, once the zippy microcar is released – with a top limited speed of 90km/hr and 0-50km/hr in 5 seconds – it could be the perfect antidote for tight peak hour jams. PIC Read more
Agriculture is now the major driver of permanent forest loss
Over the past decade-and-a-half, industrial agriculture has caused almost one-third of global forest loss–all of which is permanent. Deforestation rates have nevertheless not declined in the last decade-and-a-half. This study relies on satellite data–which has become invaluable for watchdog groups and governments trying to visually map and track deforestation around the world. But what’s not usually reflected in these visual maps is precisely what’s causing the loss. Using a new analytical model the University of Arkansas-led researchers were able to bring in this new dimension, and to show that compared to all other causes, industrial agriculture and ranching was responsible for the largest portion of permanent forest loss between 2001 and 2015 – 27%. In Indonesia and Malaysia especially, deforestation has gone up, and the fine-grained analysis identified palm oil plantations–an ingredient used in the making of countless products, from margarine to lipstick–as the most prominent driver of forest decline in these parts. Read moreBye bye bugs? Scientists fear non-pest insects are declining
Bugs are the little things that run the world. Last year, a study that found an 82% mid-summer decline in the number and weight of bugs captured in traps in 63 nature preserves in Germany compared with 27 years earlier. Scientists say similar comparisons can’t be done elsewhere because similar bug counts weren’t done decades ago. “We don’t know how much we’re losing if we don’t know how much we have,” In Greenland there has been an 80% drop in numbers since 1996. Read moreGene drive halts malaria mosquitoes
Researchers seeking a way to eradicate malaria-transmitting mosquitoes have created a gene drive that can wipe out an entire population of the insects in the lab. Female mosquitoes with one copy of a tweaked doublesex gene passed it on to almost all of their offspring, rapidly spreading the genetic modification. Females who inherited two copies of the gene were unable to reproduce, eventually leading to no more baby mozzies. Read more
No bees means less food, all for the sake of profit. Pollinators support 35% of global agriculture in the production of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide. With close on 8 billion people,14% or whom are hungry today, how do these criminals get away with it?
Monsanto’s global weedkiller harms honeybees
Glyphosate – the most used pesticide ever – damages the good bacteria in honeybee guts, making them more prone to deadly infections. The abundances of dominant gut microbiota are decreased in bees exposed to glyphosate at concentrations documented in the environment, and young worker bees exposed to glyphosate died more often when later exposed to a common bacterium. Honeybee larvae grew more slowly and died more often when exposed to glyphosate. An earlier study showed the exposure of adult bees to the herbicide at levels found in fields impairs the cognitive capacities needed for a successful return to the hive. Read moreGlyphosate Poisons Crops and Soil
Two senior scientists have investigated the ecological impacts of glyphosate warn of “dire consequences for agriculture – rendering soils infertile, crops non-productive, and plants less nutritious. The widespread use of glyphosate can “significantly increase the severity of various plants diseases, impair plant defence to pathogens and diseases, and immobilise soil and plant nutrients rendering them unavailable for plant use.” Further, glyphosate stimulates the growth of fungi and enhances the virulence of pathogens such as Fusarium and render soils infertile, crops non-productive, and plants less nutritious. Read moreMonsanto: We WONNNN!!!!
This subpoena was terrifying and would have had Avaaz spend months and hundreds of thousands of euros digging up and handing over to Monsanto everything anyone on our team ever said or wrote about them for YEARS. Including even the email addresses and identities of our members who had sent messages to officials about Monsanto! Even worse, lawyers told us that courts in New York tend to AUTOMATICALLY GRANT requests like this! Because usually, more info means more justice. But then our community got involved. Over 200,000 of us donated, and we hired the best lawyer in the business — Andrew Celli, who has taken on cases like this before and won. He and his team worked with the Avaaz team to write a ridiculously great takedown of the Monsanto subpoena. It’s long and legalistic, but if you speak that language, it’s a thing of beauty — you can read it here. Monsanto flew in a top lawyer, a man who’s defended everything from asbestos to lead and arsenic. But between our briefs, and the powerful oral arguments, the judge was convinced, and took the incredibly RARE step of throwing out the ENTIRE subpoena!!! Normally they just narrow the scope of the subpoena to something more reasonable, but the judge couldn’t find anything reasonable in Monsanto’s claims about Avaaz! Read moreAutonomous weapons and the army of none
In classic Turing computation, a machine is programmed to follow explicit rules keyed in by humans. For example, a rule might stipulate (in a programming language not English) that “if you see a human wearing an enemy uniform and carrying a weapon, shoot.” Suppose the machine’s sensors detect an object that is human shaped, wearing a uniform, and carrying a rifle. It therefore ‘makes a decision’ by following the human-defined rule and triggered by what it senses in the environment. In this case, does it make sense to say that the machine actually made the decision? Or would it make more sense to say that the human who put the rule in the machine made the decision at installation and that it was then mechanically executed by the machine? The latter interpretation surely makes more sense. The machine is simply following a programmed rule without any feelings of doubt, conscience, or guilt, just as it would had it been programmed to record a television broadcast. It is possible to claim that a machine ‘decides’ insofar as cognition is installed in the machine. But the human who inputs the rules that determine a particular action under a particular set of circumstances is the one who really decides. The install time decision by the human involves an authentic, evaluative, and deliberative choice. The execution by the machine does not. Read more
People lived in Australia’s desert 50,000 years ago, earlier than first thought
It shows that people occupied the sandy deserts of interior Australia very soon after settling the north of the continent more than 50,000 years ago. This is some of the earliest evidence of people living in deserts anywhere in the world. The First Australians adapted with ingenuity and flexibility as they quickly dispersed into every bioregion across the country. For instance, evidence for the earliest ground-edged axe use in the world comes from the Kimberley. Read moreRising homelessness among older people
A recent report found that 18,600 people aged 55 and over were homeless around Australia on the night of the 2016 census—a 49% increase over the past decade. Often the plight of the homeless is hidden from public view. The crisis extends far beyond those living rough on the streets. Most commonly, the older people were living in boarding houses (27%) or staying temporarily in other households (24%). Older people are seen and treated by governments, Labor and Liberal-National alike, as a burden unless they are able to pay for all aspects of their care and wellbeing. The fact that after working their entire lives, older workers are not guaranteed even a roof over their head is a consequence of a system based on profit Read moreThe growing power of media mates
The news that billionaires Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes essentially war-gamed the ousting of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should apall all Australians wanting media diversity and an open and transparent polity. But if you’re still not affronted by what reportedly happened between the two billionaires last month, consider this: if former federal treasurer Peter Costello joins the next Murdoch-Stokes confab in his role as boss of a merged Nine and Fairfax, we’ll pretty much have the entire Australian news media in on one conversation, and if they were of a mind, they could orchestrate entire election campaigns and key government strategies and policies. Does this sound democratic to you? Read moreAs Debt Rises, the US Will Soon Spend More on Interest Than on the Military
Tax cuts, spending increases and higher interest rates could make it harder to respond to future recessions and deal with other needs. With less money coming in and more going toward interest, political leaders will find it harder to address pressing needs like fixing crumbling roads and bridges or to make emergency moves like pulling the economy out of future recessions. Within a decade, more than $900 billion in interest payments will be due annually, easily outpacing spending on myriad other programs. Already the fastest-growing major government expense, the cost of interest is on track to hit $390 billion next year, nearly 50 percent more than in 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Gradually rising interest rates would have made borrowing more expensive even without additional debt. But the tax cuts passed late last year have created a deeper hole, with the deficit increasing faster than expected. A budget bill approved in February that raised spending by $300 billion over two years will add to the financial pressure. Read moreWhen Will We Have Artificial Intelligence As Smart as a Human?
Artificial General Intelligence can think creatively, continue learning over time, and maybe even pass for conscious. the most obvious concern is when AI is used to hurt people. There are a lot of different applications where you can imagine that happening. We have to be really careful about letting that bad side get out. [Sorting out how to keep AI responsible is] a very tricky question; it has many more dimensions than just the scientific. That means all of society does need to be involved in answering it. Read moreThe risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real
there are good reasons to think a Cold War 2.0 might be a good deal closer than we realise. The US and China are plainly entering into a period of significant geopolitical rivalry. Each has ambitions that are mutually incompatible. Beijing wants a south-east Asian region in which it is not beholden to US primacy, while Washington wants to sustain its regional dominance. The two also find it extremely difficult to see the world from the other’s perspective. Washington does not seem able to grasp that even though Beijing benefited from US primacy in the region, it will not forever accept a price-taker’s position in the regional order. For its part, Beijing simply does not believe Washington’s claim that it wants China to achieve its potential, and that this can occur without meaningful changes to the current international order. When that is added to the nationalism that is a powerful political force in both countries, the prospects of a bleak geopolitical future seem very real. The trade war escalation is one of the most worrying developments. Not only does it signal a more turbulent and less dynamic period in the global economy, it represents the victory of nationalist politics over shared economic interests. More importantly, it may presage a return to a less integrated global economy. Read moreA world on borrowed time
Current temperature trajectories are on par with or exceed the IPCC’s dangerous projections (Figure 1). Acting as the lungs of the biosphere, over tens of millions of years the atmosphere developed an oxygen-rich carbon-low composition, allowing the flourishing of mammals. The anthropogenic release to the atmosphere to date of more than 600 Gigaton of carbon (GtC) is reversing this trend, threatening to return the Earth to conditions which preceded the emergence of modern life forms, including humans. Climate projections for the mid to late 21st century by the IPCC (models A1B and A2) indicate mean global temperatures rising to near 3 to 4 degrees Celsius above mean 1880-1920 temperatures. Concomitantly a transient cooling occurs in high latitude oceans due to flow of cold water from melting Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. These developments would lead to un-inhabitability of large parts of the Earth and to a further rise in extreme weather events, not least from hurricanes around the Pacific Rim and Caribbean island chains. Tracking toward 500 ppm CO2 a shift is taking place in the state of the atmosphere away from the conditions which allowed farming some ~11,000 years ago and from conditions which allowed the emergence of Homo erectus 1.8 million years ago. In denial of the basic laws of physics, specifically of black body radiation (Stefan-Boltzmann, Kirchhoff and Planck laws), and their manifestation in the atmosphere-ocean-land system, world “leaders” and a complicit media are presiding over a rise of carbon emissions at a rate of 2 – 3 ppm CO2 per year, shifting the chemistry of the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate since at least 56 million years ago, when a hyperthermal catastrophe and mass extinction of species took place.
Figure 1. Current global warming at the IPCC fastest trajectories (IPCC models A2 and A1B): [A] Land surface temperatures (red) and ocean temperatures (blue) for 1880-2020 (NASA); [B] Modeled temperature change for 2000-2100 (IPCC); [C] Modelled land and sea temperatures for 2055-2060 with 10 years doubling time for freshwater flux from the ice sheets (Hansen and Sato 2015; http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2015/20151012_IceMeltPredictions.pdf).
About 1980 when the dangerous rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases to 340 ppm CO2 was realized, it may have still been possible to attempt effective mitigation by means of (A) sharp reduction of carbon emissions, and (B) attempts at down-draw of CO2 through reforestation, soil improvement (biochar), CO2 capture using sea weed farming, CO2 reaction with basalt and other methods. This has not happened—instead, a plethora of economic and political panels formed, mostly to the exclusion of climate scientists, counting the costs of mitigation and adaptation, namely the price of the Earth.
With estimated carbon reserves in excess of 20,000 GtC (well over 20 times the CO2 content of the atmosphere), further emissions can take the atmosphere to >1000 ppm CO2, namely to Early Eocene (about 50 million years ago) or Mesozoic-like greenhouse Earth conditions, when large parts of the continents were inundated by the oceans.
As stated by the renown oceanographer Wallace Broecker in 1986, “The inhabitants of planet Earth are quietly conducting a gigantic experiment. We play Russian roulette with climate and no one knows what lies in the active chamber of the gun“. Where WWII sacrificed millions in gas chambers, global warming threatens to destroy billions, on the strength of an “economic” Faustian Bargain.
Extreme greenhouse levels and high mean temperatures existed on Earth at several stages, but mostly the transitions between these states and cold or ice ages were gradual, allowing many species to adapt. By contrast, when climate changes were abrupt, such as due to asteroid impacts or global volcanic eruptions, many species could not adjust, with consequent mass extinctions. The extreme rate at which anthropogenic global warming is taking place means that only the hardiest species may survive, including grasses and insects and possibly species of birds, descendants of the fated dinosaurs. Human survivors may endure, as they have during the extreme climate upheavals of the glacial-interglacial cycles, which in some instances allowed them to outlast the most adverse conditions.
In perspective, once the Holocene inter-glacial climate stabilized about 11,000 years ago and excess food became available, humans were free to construct monuments for immorality and undertake atavistic orgies of death called war—ritual sacrifice of the young. Possessed by a conscious fear of death, craving omniscient and immortality, simultaneously creating and destroying, as women raise children and cultivate gardens and men go to war, the root factors which underlie the transformation of tribal warriors into button-pushing automatons remain manifest.
The battle between life-enhancing and death-inducing agents in nature, symbolized by the Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva trinity, has always existed. At present, some, in a world buzzing with witless twits and faceless books, some 73 years following the carnage of WWII, the rise of fascism can only lead to yet another world war, this time nuclear.
Further experiments with the Earth are underway. Once the Hadron Collider has been deemed to be ‘safe’, further science fiction-like experiments yet to be dreamt by ethics-free scientists may or may not result in a black hole. Little doubt exists however regarding the consequences of the continuing use of the atmosphere, the lungs of the biosphere, as an open sewer for carbon gasses.
From the Romans to the third Reich, the barbarism of empires surpasses that of small marauding tribes. In the name of their gods, or freedom, or progress, or human rights, empires never cease to bomb peasants in their small fields. It is among the wretched of the Earth that true charity is common, where empathy is learnt through suffering.
Humans live in a perennial realm of perceptions, dreams, myths and legends, in denial of critical facts. Existentialist philosophy offers a perspective into, and a way of coping with, what otherwise defies rational contemplation. Going through their black night of the soul, members of the species may be rewarded by the emergence of a conscious dignity devoid of illusion, grateful for the glimpse into nature for a fleeting moment: “Having pushed a boulder up the mountain all day, turning toward the setting sun, we must consider Sisyphus happy.” (Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942).
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