Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

America is still stuck in the world 9/11 built

By Sean Illing – Did 9/11 pave the way for Donald Trump?

That’s a big question, and until I read Spencer Ackerman’s new book, Reign of Terror: How 9/11 Destabilized America and Produced Trump, I hadn’t really thought about it. Ackerman is a longtime national security journalist who’s covered the “war on terror” since its inception roughly two decades ago.

Ackerman’s answer to the above question is yes, but his thesis is even more pointed: The war on terror — and the panoply of excesses it unleashed — eroded the institutional armor of American democracy and left the country defenseless against its own pathologies. And those pathologies, which Ackerman lays out with meticulous attention, prepared the ground for a figure like Trump.

Reading Ackerman’s book was a bit of a whirlwind. I was 19 years old when the Twin Towers fell. I’ll never forget watching the planes hit the wall. I’ll never forget how confused and angry I was. And I’ll never forget the thoughts running through my mind as I realized I was heading to boot camp in just four months. more>

Space Market Is Poised for Growth. But What Industries Will Benefit First?

Everyone wants a piece of the new space race action. AIAA ASCEND may help break it down.
By John Blyler – Space seems to be the new black. Everyone wants to be a part of the current “space race.” A new awareness of our extra-terrestrial potential is emerging from the amazing crafts that take us into the earth’s orbit and beyond to the structures that will be needed to support humans on other planets.

The space market has also become a growth engine for the high-tech industry. In contrast to the last space race, today’s launch costs are down. Technological advances and public interest mean space exploration is well on course to be the next trillion-dollar industry.

Add to this growing list of supporters is a community called ASCEND, whose sole mission is to build humanity’s off-world future faster. Recently, they premiered “Fast Forward” – an original on-demand interview series featuring champions of industries pursuing large-scale growth in space.

Powered by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), ASCEND was launched in 2020 to Accelerate Space Commerce, Exploration, and New Discovery. ASCEND’s centerpiece annual event will convene this November. Join the conversation live in Las Vegas and Washington, DC, and online everywhere during November. nore>

Not seeing the wood for the trees—the EU’s environmental blunder

Supporting a conversion to wood burning has unwittingly incentivised power plants to increase greenhouse gases.
By George Tyler – The European Union is leading the world in adopting limits on greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, notably via hefty carbon taxes. New policies always experience teething problems but an EU environmental regulation adopted in 2009 has become an embarrassing own goal.

The regulation classified wood burning as environmentally superior to fossil fuels—even carbon-neutral—and exempted it from carbon taxes. That was intuitive perhaps but an untested presumption adopted in a data vacuum. The notion was that harvesting forests for power-plant fuel would establish a virtuous cycle, with tree regrowth offsetting the wood-burning emissions.

But rigorous subsequent analyses have led experts to debunk the notion of wood as carbon-neutral. In no scenario, even stretching over a century, does replanted forest sequester sufficient carbon. In the most environmentally beneficial scenario, a quarter of a hardwood forest can be harvested for power-plant fuel and, if replanted with hardwood—and the entire forest left untouched and free of fire, drought or infestation during the subsequent century—will sequester all of 66 per cent of the emissions released by the initial burning. more>

 

Zero tolerance for hate teaching is not negotiable

By David Lega, Lukas Mandl and Miriam Lexmann – The June 2021 publication of an overdue review of Palestinian textbooks by Germany’s Georg Eckert Institute (GEI) was meant to bring peace of mind to those who have long suspected that the Palestinian Authority (PA) curriculum does not meet UNESCO standards.

With concerns expressed that the curriculum perpetuates conflict by promoting hatred and violence, alongside employing antisemitic and militaristic tropes, €225,000 was invested by the EU to fund an ostensibly comprehensive review.

The findings and their presentation should be as concerning as the textbooks themselves. Among these were a myriad of examples that teach hatred, encourage violence and reject peace. Within the report’s pages one finds an array of alarming and harmful content, from the glorification of gruesome terrorist activities, such as the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, to the negation of Israel as a legitimate entity, expressed through maps and nomenclature. Examples are not limited to the teaching of history or civics, with a cursory glance of maths and science textbooks finding examples of violence and death used to teach the subject, alongside the evocation of classic antisemitic tropes and conspiracies, such as treachery and greed. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Japan offshore wind: The ideal moment to build a vibrant industry
As construction starts on Japan’s first large commercial offshore wind farm in the coastal waters of Akita, the country is heralding a future of energy independence.
By Sven Heiligtag, Katsuhiro Sato, Benjamin Sauer, and Koji Toyama – With the passage in late 2019 of a law that allows offshore turbines to operate for 30 years, Japan has begun in earnest its journey away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

The two wind farms of the ¥100 billion Akita project will generate with a capacity of 140 MW, enough electricity to power at least 150,000 of Japan’s 52 million homes. By 2030 Japan plans to have installed a total of 10 GW, and the country’s possibilities are even greater. The International Energy Agency estimates Japan has enough technical potential to satisfy its entire power needs nine times over.

Japan can take advantage of the technology advances and cost improvements the offshore wind industry has made since its early days in Denmark in the 1990s. Today, it can learn from the experiences of other countries, not only in creating the turbines and wind farms but also in building markets, setting offtake prices, and designing regulation and financial incentives.

In only a handful of decades, offshore wind has become one of the core power-generation technologies of Europe, with installed capacity of 22 GW2 and about 100 GW planned by 2030.3 Taiwan and the United States have already commissioned the first small projects and plan for more than 10 and 25 GW by 2030, respectively.4 During the industry’s 30-year evolution, costs have fallen so sharply that offshore wind now compares favorably with competing energy sources.

But that does not mean Japan’s journey will be simple. It will require multiple players, including regulators, utilities, and investors, to do their part in a country where the public remains skeptical about offshore wind’s cost competitiveness with other power sources. more>

Why Managers Fear a Remote-Work Future

Like it or not, the way we work has already evolved.
By Ed Zitron – In 2019, Steven Spielberg called for a ban on Oscar eligibility for streaming films, claiming that “movie theaters need to be around forever” and that audiences had to be given “the motion picture theatrical experience” for a movie to be a movie. Spielberg’s fury was about not only the threat that streaming posed to the in-person viewing experience but the ways in which the streaming giant Netflix reported theatrical grosses and budgets, despite these not being the ways in which one evaluates whether a movie is good or not. Netflix held firm, saying that it stood for “everyone, everywhere [enjoying] releases at the same time,” and for “giving filmmakers more ways to share art.” Ultimately, Spielberg balked, and last month his company even signed a deal with Netflix, likely because he now sees the writing on the wall: Modern audiences enjoy watching movies at home.

In key ways, this fight resembles the current remote-work debate in industries such as technology and finance. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, this has often been cast as a battle between the old guard and its assumed necessities and a new guard that has found a better way to get things done. But the narrative is not that tidy. Netflix’s co-founder and CEO, Reed Hastings, one of the great “disruptors” of our age, deemed remote work “a pure negative” last fall. The 60-year-old Hastings is at the forefront of an existential crisis in the world of work, demanding that people return to the office despite not having an office himself. His criticism of remote work is that “not being able to get together in person” is bad. more>

Apocalypse or co-operation?

The perfect storm of Covid-19 and climate change, and resulting economic damage, will likely trigger much more social and political instability.
By Jayati Ghosh – The apocalypse is now. That is the glaring message of the perfect storm of Covid-19 and climate change which has broken. The pandemic is unlikely to end for years, as the novel coronavirus mutates into increasingly transmissible, drug-resistant variants. And the climate catastrophe is no longer ‘impending’ but playing out in real time.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—whose assessments predate the extreme climate events of the past year—tells us that some drastic, adverse climatic changes are now irreversible. These will affect every region, as the recent heatwaves, wildfires and floods demonstrate. They will also severely damage many natural species and adversely affect the possibilities for, and conditions of, human life.

Keeping future global warming to a manageable level (even if above the 2015 Paris climate agreement goal of 1.5C) will require a massive effort, involving sharp economic-policy reversals in every country. Major changes in the global legal and economic architecture will be essential.

For its part, the pandemic has devastated employment and livelihoods, pushing hundreds of millions of people, mostly in the developing world, into poverty and hunger. The International Labor Organization’s World Employment and Social Outlook Trends 2021 shows the extent of the damage in grinding detail. In 2020, the pandemic caused the loss of nearly 9 per cent of total global working hours, equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs. This trend has continued in 2021, with working-hour losses equivalent to 140 million full-time jobs in the first quarter and 127 million jobs in the second quarter. more>

Energize This: Canada Could Become A Global Hub For New Nuclear Technology

By Tomas Kellner – Canada, like many industrialized countries, has pledged to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. But what makes Canada unique is how it wants to achieve that goal. Like others, it has been boosting renewables like wind and solar. But it also plans to add to the mix a powerful new source: small modular reactors, or SMRs.

SMRs can generate carbon-free electricity while overcoming some of the nuclear industry’s biggest challenges — namely, cost and lengthy construction times.

They can play a crucial role in helping Canada decarbonize in several important ways. Designed to produce up to 300 megawatts of carbon-free electricity generation, SMRs can step in when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining, which can happen for extended periods during Canada’s long winters, marked by a formidable mix of snow, cold and short days. But they can also help provide carbon-free generation in remote areas, particularly in the northern regions, where many rely on diesel generators for electricity. more>

Vaccine Greed: Capitalism Without Competition Isn’t Capitalism, It’s Exploitation

Among the pandemic’s many lessons, however, is that greed can easily work against the common good
By Jag Bhalla – DID GREED JUST save the day? That’s what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed recently. “The reason we have the vaccine success,” he said in a private call to Conservative members of Parliament, “is because of capitalism, because of greed.

Despite later backpedaling, Johnson’s remark reflects a widely influential but wildly incoherent view of innovation: that greed — the unfettered pursuit of profit above all else — is a necessary driver of technological progress. Call it the need-greed theory.

Among the pandemic’s many lessons, however, is that greed can easily work against the common good. We rightly celebrate the near-miraculous development of effective vaccines, which have been widely deployed in rich nations. But the global picture reveals not even a semblance of justice: As of May, low-income nations received just 0.3 percent of the global vaccine supply. At this rate it would take 57 years for them to achieve full vaccination.

This disparity has been dubbed “vaccine apartheid,” and it’s exacerbated by greed. A year after the launch of the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool — a program aimed at encouraging the collaborative exchange of intellectual property, knowledge, and data — “not a single company has donated its technical knowhow,” wrote politicians from India, Kenya, and Bolivia in a June essay for The Guardian. As of that month, the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative, a vaccine sharing scheme established to provide developing countries equitable access, had delivered only about 90 million out of a promised 2 billion doses. Currently, pharmaceutical companies, lobbyists, and conservative lawmakers continue to oppose proposals for patent waivers that would allow local drug makers to manufacture the vaccines without legal jeopardy. They claim the waivers would slow down existing production, “foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines,” and, as North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr said, “undermine the very innovation we are relying on to bring this pandemic to an end.” more>

Why Elon Musk Isn’t Superman

The Betting Economy vs. The Operating Economy
By Tim O’Reilly – At one point early this year, Elon Musk briefly became the richest person in the world. After a 750% increase in Tesla’s stock market value added over $180 billion to his fortune, he briefly had a net worth of over $200 billion. It’s now back down to “only” $155 billion.

Understanding how our economy produced a result like this—what is good about it and what is dangerous—is crucial to any effort to address the wild inequality that threatens to tear our society apart.

In response to the news of Musk’s surging fortune, Bernie Sanders tweeted:

Bernie was right that a $7.25 minimum wage is an outrage to human decency. If the minimum wage had kept up with increases in productivity since 1979, it would be over $24 by now, putting a two-worker family into the middle class. But Bernie was wrong to imply that Musk’s wealth increase was at the expense of Tesla’s workers. The median Tesla worker makes considerably more than the median American worker.

Elon Musk’s wealth doesn’t come from him hoarding Tesla’s extractive profits, like a robber baron of old. For most of its existence, Tesla had no profits at all. It became profitable only last year. But even in 2020, Tesla’s profits of $721 million on $31.5 billion in revenue were small—only slightly more than 2% of sales, a bit less than those of the average grocery chain, the least profitable major industry segment in America.

No, Musk won the lottery, or more precisely, the stock market beauty contest. In theory, the price of a stock reflects a company’s value as an ongoing source of profit and cash flow. In practice, it is subject to wild booms and busts that are unrelated to the underlying economics of the businesses that shares of stock are meant to represent. more>