Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

Supreme Court Just Ruled That Using Social Media Is a Constitutional Right

By Ephrat Livni – Public space in the digital age has no shape and no physical place. But the Supreme Court is now sorting out what that means for free-speech rights.

On June 19, the justices unanimously held that states can’t broadly limit access to social media because cyberspace “is one of the most important places to exchange views.”

“A fundamental First Amendment principle is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. Given the fact that social-media platforms in particular allow for this kind of free communication, and that the constitution protects the right to exchange, more> https://goo.gl/XRLDt7

Sending a strong signal on global internet freedom

By Stuart N. Brotman – The growing restrictions on internet freedom around the world are easy to document; less so any visible American strategy that would reverse the ominous trends at hand.

According to its most recent annual report in this area, Freedom on the Net 2016, two-thirds of the world’s internet users live under government censorship. Internet freedom around the world declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year.

The types of blocked content include political communication aimed at promoting democratic values, such as online petitions and calls for public protests. Even satire can be punished severely: a 22-year old in Egypt was imprisoned for three years after photo-shopping Mickey Mouse ears on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Unfortunately, this type of criminal penalty is hardly unique.

Overall, Freedom House deemed only 17 surveyed countries to have real internet freedom; 28 were partly free and 20 were characterized as not free. The leading bad state actors should not be surprising: China, Syria, Iran, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan and Cuba (North Korea was not included in the survey, alas).

The U.S. would be hurt if the marketplace of ideas and the online commercial marketplace that thrive here are diminished overseas.

However, there has been radio silence to date about this issue from the White House and the Department of State. more> https://goo.gl/msTcLz

Updates from GE

Renewable Energy Makes Things Tough On The Grid, But New Software Could Help

By Bruce Watson – In 2016, more than two-thirds of power in Europe came from nonrenewable sources. Globally, renewables are expected to reach parity with coal and gas around 2040.

Nevertheless, the speed with which intermittent renewables — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow — are coming on board is making it harder for European utilities to balance the grid. That’s because the grid, as large as it is, is also a delicate system where supply must match demand at all times or there’s a risk of blackouts.

In France, for example, strong winds in the north mixed with a sunny week on the Riviera in the south can lead to a surfeit of electricity that puts the balance at risk.

The intermittency also makes profits hard to find, with European utilities on average struggling to increase profits 1 percent in 2016. Countries around the world are watching how Europe uses thermal generation to keep the grid balanced; prioritizes low-cost, clean and renewable energy; and keeps utilities profitable amid a rapidly changing energy network. more> https://goo.gl/iC532f

Updates from GE

The Time To Invent The Technologies That Will Power Our Future Is Now
By David Danielson – The year 2050 sounds pretty far away, doesn’t it? But in terms of the world our children and grandchildren will inherit, 2050 is today: it’s right around the corner.

By 2050, there will be almost 10 billion people on Earth, one-third more than there are today, with essentially all of this population growth predicted to be in currently less-wealthy nations around the world. And the approximately 9 billion people living in these nations in 2050 will be hungry to consume more energy, requiring an almost doubling of energy usage per person to achieve a good standard of living by some estimates.

At the same time, the world’s best scientists have determined that we must simultaneously reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050, relative to today’s levels, in order to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

Scaling and improving today’s clean energy technologies can take us part of the way to the future we all want. Technologies like wind power, solar power, LEDs, electric vehicle batteries, and many others are already rapidly approaching widespread cost-competitiveness with traditional forms of energy.

But these technologies alone will not be enough: it has become clear now that to provide universal energy access around the world while simultaneously achieving required emissions reductions, we must unleash an unprecedented Energy Innovation Revolution today – and over the next few years – to develop the transformative new energy technologies that will be needed to close the gap between the 2050 we are headed for and the 2050 we want. more> https://goo.gl/57jCZr

End-times for humanity

BOOK REVIEW

Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction, Author: Claire Colebrook.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Author: Naomi Klein.
Antifragile, Author: Nicholas Taleb.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Author: Mary Wollstonecraft.
The Social Contract, Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

By Claire Colebrook – The panic isn’t merely about civilisational threats, but existential ones. Beyond doomsday proclamations about mass extinction, climate change, viral pandemics, global systemic collapse and resource depletion, we seem to be seized by an anxiety about losing the qualities that make us human.

Social media, we’re told, threatens our capacity for empathy and genuine connection.

How did we arrive at this moment in history, in which humanity is more technologically powerful than ever before, and yet we feel ourselves to be increasingly fragile?

What contemporary post-apocalyptic culture fears isn’t the end of ‘the world’ so much as the end of ‘a world’ – the rich, white, leisured, affluent one. Western lifestyles are reliant on what the French philosopher Bruno Latour has referred to as a ‘slowly built set of irreversibilities’, requiring the rest of the world to live in conditions that ‘humanity’ regards as unlivable.

And nothing could be more precarious than a species that contracts itself to a small portion of the Earth, draws its resources from elsewhere, transfers its waste and violence, and then declares that its mode of existence is humanity as such. more> https://goo.gl/1nriI9

Updates from Aalto University

Solar energy to Otaniemi – campus planning invests in energy efficiency
By Satu Kankaala – Right now, the Aalto University main campus is growing and developing rapidly. Campus planning is investing in energy efficiency, which is an important step in the goal towards an energy self-sufficient Otaniemi ‘According to our report, ground heat and solar energy are the most suitable options for Otaniemi, and we are gradually increasing their use’, tells Satu Kankaala, Head of Workplaces and Sustainability at Aalto CRE.

‘The campus is made unique by several culturally significant locations as well as the nearby nature and conservation area. They also impact what kinds of energy technologies can be used in the properties’, she continues.

According to Kankaala, also financial sustainability, the wellbeing of people working in the spaces, and improving the utilization of the spaces are central aspects of responsible campus development.

About 45% of the energy used for heating and 75% of the energy used for cooling the recently repaired Dipoli comes from geothermal energy. Geothermal energy will comprise about 90% of the heating and up to 95% of the cooling of Väre, which will be finished next year. The electricity consumption of campus buildings has considerably been reduced by measures such as shifting to LED lighting and improving the power management of the computer base. With these energy efficiency measures, the carbon footprint of the buildings has been significantly reduced. more> https://goo.gl/crp3uu

Related>

Our obsession with GDP and economic growth has failed us, let’s end it

BOOK REVIEW

Wellbeing Economy: Success in a World Without Growth, Author: Lorenzo Fioramonti.

By Lorenzo Fioramonti – The idea that the economic “pie” can grow indefinitely is alluring. The “growth first” rule has dominated the world since the early 20th century. No other ideology has ever been so powerful: the obsession with growth even cut through both capitalist and socialist societies.

But what exactly is growth? Strangely enough, the notion has never been reasonably developed.

For common sense people, there is growth when—all things being equal—our overall wealth increases.

Paradoxically, our model of economic growth does exactly the opposite of what common sense suggests.

Here are some examples. If I sell my kidney for some cash, then the economy grows. But if I educate my kids, prepare and cook food for my community, improve the health conditions of my people, growth doesn’t happen.

If a country cuts and sells all its trees, it gets a boost in GDP. But nothing happens if it nurtures them. more> https://goo.gl/k6G27r

Our world outsmarts us

BOOK REVIEW

A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves, Author: Robert Burton.

By Robert Burton – Whether contemplating the pros and cons of climate change; the role of evolution; the risks versus benefits of vaccines, cancer screening, proper nutrition, genetic engineering; trickle-down versus bottom-up economic policies; or how to improve local traffic, we must be comfortable with a variety of statistical and scientific methodologies, complex risk-reward and probability calculations – not to mention an intuitive grasp of the difference between fact, theory and opinion.

Even moral decisions, such as whether or not to sacrifice one life to save five (as in the classic trolley-car experiment), boil down to often opaque calculations of the relative value of the individual versus the group.

If we are not up to the cognitive task, how might we be expected to respond? Will we graciously acknowledge our individual limits and readily admit that others might have more knowledge and better ideas?

Will those uneasy with numbers and calculations appreciate and admire those who are?

Or is it more likely that a painful-to-acknowledge sense of inadequacy will promote an intellectual defensiveness and resistance to ideas not intuitively obvious? more> https://goo.gl/Bjkogb

How the U.S. Prepared for Nuclear Catastrophe

BOOK REVIEW

Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die, Author: Garrett Graff.

By Mahita Gajanan – Raven Rock is the name of the military installation built in the late 1940s near Camp David, in case of disaster during the Cold War. As Graff’s subtitle indicates, not everyone was invited to take shelter.

“It’s too hard to keep people scared enough that every family will have a shelter,” Graff said. “The planners were like, ‘This is going to be too much to save America. So, we’re going to try to figure out how to save the idea of America.'”

As we think about Russia and North Korea, these questions are more relevant today,” he said. “We just don’t know what [Trump] is doing or who might be appointed to some of these secret roles after a catastrophic incident.”

Graff said plans for a nuclear disaster today “absolutely exist,” although they remain classified. more> https://goo.gl/G1DnyD

Are human rights anything more than legal conventions?

BOOK REVIEW

Human Rights: From Morality to Law, Author: John Tasioulas.
The Law of Peoples, Author: John Rawls.

By John Tasioulas – Philosophers have debated the nature of human rights since at least the 12th century, often under the name of ‘natural rights’. These natural rights were supposed to be possessed by everyone and discoverable with the aid of our ordinary powers of reason (our ‘natural reason’), as opposed to rights established by law or disclosed through divine revelation.

Since the middle of the previous century an elaborate architecture of human rights law has emerged at the international, regional and domestic levels, one that is effective to wildly varying degrees. But, ultimately, this legalistic approach is unsatisfactory.

To begin with, the law does not always bind all those we believe should abide by human rights. For example, some states have not ratified human-rights treaties, or have ratified them subject to wide-ranging exceptions (‘reservations’) that blunt their critical edge. A country such as Saudi Arabia can have a seat on the UN Human Rights Council yet persist in severe forms of gender discrimination.

Moreover, the international law of human rights, like international law generally, almost exclusively binds states. Yet many believe that non-state agents, such as corporations, whose revenues in some instances exceed the GDP of all but the wealthiest nations, also bear grave human-rights responsibilities.

Whether I’m right or not, I am convinced that we cannot sustain our commitment to human rights on the cheap, by invoking only the law or the assumptions of our liberal democratic culture. more> https://goo.gl/AXTYg3