Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

Four things that matter more than the Paris Agreement

In a new report, “Undiplomatic Action: A practical guide to the new politics and geopolitics of climate change,” David Victor and Bruce Jones write:

“Without confidence in new technologies and the policy and investment support that follows from that confidence, even the most advanced and elaborated global diplomatic agreements can only produce an ever-wider chasm between stated goals and realistically achievable outcomes.”

They contend that “real world” actions on the ground, not global goals, will drive energy transitions at the local level and in the private sector.

In the paper, they outline four key factors they believe matter even more than the global agreement:

  1. Facilitate leadership through small groups
  2. Focus on near-term emissions reductions
  3. Invest in technological innovation
  4. Demonstrate success and enable better governance


Source: Four things that matter more than the Paris Agreement


Updates from Georgia Tech

Robot Monitors Chicken Houses and Retrieves Eggs
By John Toon – “Today’s challenge is to teach a robot how to move in environments that have dynamic, unpredictable obstacles, such as chickens,” said Colin Usher, a research scientist in GTRI’s Food Processing Technology Division.

“When busy farmers must spend time in chicken houses, they are losing money and opportunities elsewhere on the farm. In addition, there is a labor shortage when it comes to finding workers to carry out manual tasks such as picking up floor eggs and simply monitoring the flocks. If a robot could successfully operate autonomously in a chicken house 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it could then pick up floor eggs, monitor machinery, and check on birds, among other things. By assigning one robot to each chicken house, we could also greatly reduce the potential for introductions of disease or cross-contamination from one house to other houses.”

The autonomous robot is outfitted with an ultrasonic localization system similar to GPS but more suited to an indoor environment where GPS might not be available. This system uses low-cost, ultrasonic beacons indicating the robot’s orientation and its location in a chicken house. The robot also carries a commercially available time-of-flight camera, which provides three-dimensional (3D) depth data by emitting light signals and then measuring how long they take to return. The localization and 3D data together allow the robot’s software to devise navigation plans around chickens to perform tasks. more>



Knee-jerk cynicism is a failure of critical reasoning


Enlightenment Now, Author: Steven Pinker.
The Better Angels of Our Nature, Author: Steven Pinker.

By Thu-Huong Ha – If we see that science and humanism have solved the world’s problems before, Pinker’s argument goes, we’ll see that the problems we face today can be solved again through science and humanism. This hope ought to inoculate us against cynicism.

Despite all this sanguinity, the book also contains plenty of exasperation. Pinker chastises: the mainstream media, liberals bemoaning the state of inequality, white nationalists, communists, anti-vaxxers, social justice warriors, “climate justice warriors,” and Nietzsche.

“Since the time of the Hebrew prophets, who blended their social criticism with fore-warnings of disaster, pessimism has been equated with moral seriousness,” Pinker writes.

“Journalists believe that by accentuating the negative they are discharging their duty as watchdogs, muckrakers, whistle-blowers, and afflicters of the comfortable. And intellectuals know they can attain instant gravitas by pointing to an unsolved problem and theorizing that it is a symptom of a sick society.” more>


How Hunter-Gatherers May Hold the Key to our Economic Future

We need to rethink our relationships with the workplace.
By James Suzman – What happened on the Omaheke farms echoes broader trends transforming workplaces across the globe.

The same question also irked John Maynard Keynes when in the winter of 1929 he was contemplating the ruins of his personal fortune. Global stock markets had imploded and the Great Depression was slowly throttling the life out of the Euro-American economy.

To remind himself of the ephemeral nature of the crisis, he penned an optimistic essay entitled “The Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”. In it he argued that within a century technical innovation and increases in productivity would usher in a golden era of leisure that would liberate us from the tyranny of the clock, and enable us to thrive on the basis of working no more than fifteen hours per week.

Besides war, natural disasters and acts of God the only significant obstacle he saw to this Utopia being achieved was what he believed was our instinct to strive for more, to work and to create new wealth.

So he took the view that, save a few “purposeful money makers”, we would recognize the economic Utopia for what it was , slow down and “be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.”

Keynes was right about improved productivity and technological innovation. According to Keynes’s reasoning, on the basis of labor productivity improvements alone we should not be working more than 11 hours a week now.

But, despite having the means to work much less, many of us now work as long and hard as we did before. With the industrial revolution now having merged into the digital revolution there is a good case to be made to suggest that we have reached an inflexion point in the history of work as important as the agricultural revolution. more>


Stop Saying ‘Smart Cities’

Digital stardust won’t magically make future cities more affordable or resilient.
By Bruce Sterling – The term “smart city” is interesting yet not important, because nobody defines it. “Smart” is a snazzy political label used by a modern alliance of leftist urbanites and tech industrialists.

Smart-city devotees all over this world will agree that London is particularly smart. Why? London is a huge, ungainly beast whose cartwheeling urban life is in cranky, irrational disarray. London is a god-awful urban mess, but London does have some of the best international smart-city conferences.

The digital techniques that smart-city fans adore are flimsy and flashy—and some are even actively pernicious—but they absolutely will be used in cities. They already have an urban heritage. When you bury fiber-optic under the curbs around the town, then you get internet. When you have towers and smartphones, then you get portable ubiquity. When you break up a smartphone into its separate sensors, switches, and little radios, then you get the internet of things.

However, the cities of the future won’t be “smart,” or well-engineered, cleverly designed, just, clean, fair, green, sustainable, safe, healthy, affordable, or resilient. They won’t have any particularly higher ethical values of liberty, equality, or fraternity, either. The future smart city will be the internet, the mobile cloud, and a lot of weird paste-on gadgetry, deployed by City Hall, mostly for the sake of making towns more attractive to capital.

“Smart cities” merely want to be perceived as smart, when what they actually need is quite different. more>


The Two-Degree Delusion

By Ted Nordhaus – Forty years after it was first proposed, the two-degree target continues to maintain a talismanic hold over global efforts to address climate change, despite the fact that virtually all sober analyses conclude that the target is now unobtainable.

But it is worth considering the consequences of continuing to pursue a goal that is no longer obtainable. Some significant level of future climate impact is probably unavoidable. Sustaining the fiction that the two-degree target remains viable risks leaving the world ill prepared to mitigate or manage the consequences.

In reality, most of the climate risks that we understand reasonably well are linear, meaning that lower emissions bring a lower global temperature increase, which in turn brings lower risk.

There are a range of potential nonlinear tipping points that could also bring catastrophic climate impacts. Many climate scientists and advocates argue that the risks associated with triggering these impacts are so great that it is better to take a strict precautionary approach to dramatically cut emissions. But there are enormous uncertainties about where those tipping points actually are.

The precautionary principle holds equally well at one degree of warming, a threshold that we have already surpassed; one and a half degrees, which we will soon surpass; or, for that matter, three degrees. more>


Development, self-interest, and the countries left behind

By Sarah Bermeo – The self-interest of developed countries affected policy on foreign aid, trade agreements, and even climate finance, as I argue in my new book, Targeted Development.

Targeting foreign aid to areas where potential spillovers to the donor are high is not only the practice of great powers.

Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland have all favored more proximate countries in the post-2001 period—when you control for measures of need such as income, disasters, and civil war.

For Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden, aid is also associated with bilateral migrant flows.

The more a donor imports from a developing country, the higher aid flows are to that country; this is especially true for Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

For states not targeted, however, the picture is bleak.

Where migration—and hence remittances—is low, foreign aid will also be low. When foreign aid is low, the chances of being granted preferential access to wealthy country markets is lower too.

Where geographic distance is great, economic engagement will lag behind. more>


Updates from Georgia Tech

Researchers Boost Efficiency and Stability of Optical Rectennas
By John Toon – The research team that announced the first optical rectenna in 2015 is now reporting a two-fold efficiency improvement in the devices — and a switch to air-stable diode materials. The improvements could allow the rectennas – which convert electromagnetic fields at optical frequencies directly to electrical current – to operate low-power devices such as temperature sensors.

Optical rectennas operate by coupling the light’s electromagnetic field to an antenna, in this case an array of multiwall carbon nanotubes whose ends have been opened. The electromagnetic field creates an oscillation in the antenna, producing an alternating flow of electrons. When the electron flow reaches a peak at one end of the antenna, the diode closes, trapping the electrons, then re-opens to capture the next oscillation, creating a current flow.

The switching must occur at terahertz frequencies to match the light. The junction between the antenna and diode must provide minimal resistance to electrons flowing through it while open, yet prevent leakage while closed.

“The name of the game is maximizing the number of electrons that get excited in the carbon nanotube, and then having a switch that is fast enough to capture them at their peak,” Baratunde Cola, explained. “The faster you switch, the more electrons you can catch on one side of the oscillation.” more>



The Great Deflation

President Trump vowed to “Make America Great Again,” but experts say the United States’ reputation is falling.
By Susan Milligan – Make America Great Again. America First. President Donald Trump’s professed view of, and vision for, America is unabashedly self-focused, putting the interests of the United States ahead of longtime international leadership roles in trade and democracy-building.

If there’s a schoolyard theme to the approach of a president derided by his critics as a bully, it’s that the United States isn’t going to be pushed around anymore.

But as Trump prepares to speak before world thought leaders in Davos, Switzerland, then deliver his first State of the Union speech next week, foreign policy experts and veterans of previous administrations worry about the impact abroad and at home. The nation’s image has taken a hit among foreign nations who historically have looked to the U.S. for help and leadership, while domestically, Americans are increasingly unhappy with the government many grew up thinking was the model for the world.

“America’s standing in the world has dropped catastrophically,” says Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network, a think tank. “It could be that the golden age [of America] and the conditions that created it are coming to an end. What’s remarkable is that all of this is happening without any debate in Congress about any of this.” more>


Instability, Not Productivity, Is The Economic Problem

By Gerald Holtham – If slow growth is real, what causes it?

I don’t claim to know but it is noticeable that periods of slow productivity growth often follow large macroeconomic shocks. Quite possibly productivity will pick up again as the global economy settles down, just as it did before.

But there’s the rub. The economy needs to avoid another shock. The real concern is that whether it is growing fast or slow the economy has become dangerously unstable and a succession of recessions is quite likely.

The world has found a solution of sorts: make credit cheap. After the crash and recession of the early 2000s easy money led to an inflation of property prices and massive equity withdrawal that allowed households to increase their spending despite static wages. This was particularly marked in the “Anglosphere” countries. But the property bubble led to a crash of the housing market eventually and a worse recession in 2008/9.

In a world of deficient demand and shortage of “jobs”, all countries want to run an export surplus. Easy money everywhere eliminates the possibility of competitive devaluation – everyone is trying it so no-one can do it. The country that expands its fiscal deficit quickly ends up with a current account deficit. Calls on surplus countries to take their share of the burden of raising demand fall on deaf ears. more>