Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it

BOOK REVIEW

The Territories of Science and Religion, Author: Peter Harrison.
Narratives of Secularization, Editor: Peter Harrison.
The Future of Christianity, Author: David Martin.

By Peter Harrison – Scientists, intellectuals and social scientists expected that the spread of modern science would drive secularization – that science would be a secularizing force. But that simply hasn’t been the case. If we look at those societies where religion remains vibrant, their key common features are less to do with science, and more to do with feelings of existential security and protection from some of the basic uncertainties of life in the form of public goods.

The US is arguably the most scientifically and technologically advanced society in the world, and yet at the same time the most religious of Western societies.

As in India and Turkey, secularism is actually hurting science.

In brief, global secularization is not inevitable and, when it does happen, it is not caused by science. Further, when the attempt is made to use science to advance secularism, the results can damage science.

The conflict model of science and religion offered a mistaken view of the past and, when combined with expectations of secularization, led to a flawed vision of the future. Secularization theory failed at both description and prediction.

The real question is why we continue to encounter proponents of science-religion conflict.

Religion is not going away any time soon, and science will not destroy it. more> https://goo.gl/ZjLZJx

Return of the city-state

BOOK REVIEW

Radicals Chasing Utopia, Author: Jamie Bartlett.
The End of the Nation State, Author: Jean-Marie Guéhenno.
The End of the Nation State, Author: Kenichi Ohmae.
The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, Author: Bruce Katz.

Nation-states came late to history, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they won’t make it to the end of the century
By Jamie Bartlett – To the people living under the mighty empire, these events must have been unthinkable. Just as they must have been for those living through the collapse of the Pharaoh’s rule or Christendom or the Ancien Régime.

We are just as deluded that our model of living in ‘countries’ is inevitable and eternal.

Which is all rather odd, since they’re not really that old. Until the mid-19th century, most of the world was a sprawl of empires, unclaimed land, city-states and principalities, which travelers crossed without checks or passports. As industrialization made societies more complex, large centralized bureaucracies grew up to manage them.

Those governments best able to unify their regions, store records, and coordinate action (especially war) grew more powerful vis-à-vis their neighbors. Revolutions – especially in the United States (1776) and France (1789) – helped to create the idea of a commonly defined ‘national interest’, while improved communications unified language, culture and identity. Imperialistic expansion spread the nation-state model worldwide, and by the middle of the 20th century it was the only game in town.

There are now 193 nation-states ruling the world. more> https://goo.gl/2N1bGb

Updates from Georgia Tech

You and Some ‘Cavemen’ Get a Genetic Health Check
By Ben Brumfield – Heart problems were much more common in the genes of our ancient ancestors than in ours today, according to a new study by geneticists at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who computationally compared genetic disease factors in modern humans with those of people through the millennia.

Overall, the news from the study is good. Evolution appears, through the ages, to have weeded out genetic influences that promote disease, while promulgating influences that protect from disease.

But for us modern folks, there’s also a hint of bad news. That generally healthy trend might have reversed in the last 500 to 1,000 years, meaning that, with the exception of cardiovascular ailments, disease risks found in our genes may be on the rise. For mental health, our genetic underpinnings look especially worse than those of our ancient forebears. more> https://goo.gl/txQhqU

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Updates from Aalto University

Aalto-1 satellite sends first image
By Jaan Praks, Antti Kestilä – Launched on the morning of 23 June from India, the Aalto-1 satellite’s first month in space has gone according to plan.

‘We have run checks on the majority of the satellite’s systems and found that the devices are fully functional,’ Professor Jaan Praks, who is heading the satellite project, explains.

‘We have also downloaded the first image sent by Aalto-1, which is also the first ever image taken from a Finnish satellite. It was taken while on orbit over Norway at an altitude of about 500 kilometres. The image shows the Danish coast as well as a portion of the Norwegian coastline.

Unlike traditional cameras, which measure three colours, the hyperspectral camera is able to measure dozens of freely selected narrow color channels. For this reason, it can be utilised for example in surveying forest types, algae and vegetation and as a tool in geological research. more> https://goo.gl/QGMNGu

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Germany’s New Power of the Purse

By Mark Leonard – Germany’s changing global posture predates Sigmar Gabriel, who is a relative newcomer at the foreign ministry. During the euro crisis, Germany deployed economic means for economic ends within Europe. But in its policies toward Russia, Turkey, China, and the United States, Germany has increasingly been using its economic strength to advance larger strategic goals.

After Putin annexed Crimea in March 2014, the West’s response was led not by the US, but by Germany, which spearheaded diplomacy with Russia and Ukraine to de-escalate the conflict. Germany then persuaded the rest of the European Union to agree to unprecedentedly tough sanctions against Russia to deter further aggression.

Germany has maintained that united European front for three years, defying all expectations.

So far, the rupture in German-US relations has been mostly rhetorical. But Angela Merkel is also shoring up Germany’s geopolitical position by diversifying its global partnerships, especially with China. According to Volker Stanzel, who previously served as Germany’s ambassador in Beijing, “Merkel has no illusions about China, but she sees it as a partner on climate, trade, and the politics of order.” more> https://goo.gl/1v98XP

Updates from GE

Sea Change: GE’s French Wind Turbine Factory Will Power Germany’s Renewables Revolution
By Tomas Kellner – GE is a relative newcomer to offshore wind. The company explored the field a decade ago and returned to the industry in 2015, when it acquired the energy assets of Alstom, and built its first wind farm in Long Island Sound near Block Island, Rhode Island, last year. As the inaugural offshore wind farm in the United States, the project made a splash even though it holds just five turbines. But Merkur, which will have 66 turbines, is a much bigger beast. “This one is special,” says Pascal Girault, who runs the Saint-Nazaire plant. “Everything is big.”

Girault spent the early part of his career managing supply chains for the car industry, but ramping up production for Merkur is no Sunday drive. Workers in Saint-Nazaire make generators and assemble nacelles for the 6-megawatt GE Haliade turbine. The nacelle is the casing on top of the tower that shelters the generator and other equipment. It includes some 30,000 components.

Adding to the task’s complexity, the composite blades for the machines’ 150-meter-diameter rotors come from GE’s LM Wind Power factory in Spain. The steel segments for the tower are being made in Germany and China. U.S. and European companies supply electronics and mechanical components for the converter and generator. “The scale and the speed of the project are challenging,” Girault says. more> https://goo.gl/GSScqV

How Trump v Kim can wreck the world economy without a shot being fired

By Larry Elliott – The assumption underlying the muted response is that there will be no war between the US and North Korea, nuclear or otherwise, and that the smart investment play is to buy into any dips.

The markets are part right. It still looks unlikely that Trump will sanction a pre-emptive strike. Kim knows that, which is why he would be dumb to up the ante by aiming some missiles into the sea off Guam first.

But the financial markets – and the broader global economy – could still turn nasty in an repeat of what happened 10 years ago even without a shooting war.

For a start, the world has never really recovered from the last crisis. Growth rates have been weak and have only been possible because years of low interest rates and quantitative easing have encouraged consumers and businesses to rack up large amounts of debt. As the economist Steve Keen notes in his new book Can we avoid another financial crisis (Polity), many countries have become what he calls debt junkies.

“They face the junkie’s dilemma, a choice between going ‘cold turkey’ now, or continuing to shoot up on credit and experience a bigger bust later.”

Keen says the countries to watch out for have two characteristics: they already have high levels of personal debt and have relied substantially on credit as a source of demand in the past five years. Australia, Canada, South Korea, Sweden and Norway are all on his list of candidates to be future debt zombies. But so is China. more> https://goo.gl/f7WBnq

The Psychology of a Nuclear Standoff

By Tom Jacobs – The “nuclear taboo” has held for 70 years for two reasons, according to Jacques Hymans: “the enormity of the decision of use nuclear weapons,” and the unpredictability of the consequences of doing so. Nevertheless, he warns, these are dangerous times.

New nuclear states have always been highly interested in trying to use their weapons as means of compellence, i.e. threats to get some benefit. New leaders have also had such tendencies. This is understandable, because it takes time and experience to accept the counterintuitive reality that the biggest bomb in the world is mostly useless as a military weapon, and therefore also useless as a means of compellence. So, history teaches us that both the U.S. and North Korea at present are liable to try to push their nuclear luck. That makes for a dangerous situation.

The chances are higher that the U.S. will launch first. But this would be a terrible humanitarian catastrophe and the U.S. would lose Asia politically for a hundred years. more> https://goo.gl/CtHxCU

The Scaramucci effect: what White House havoc means for the world

The Trump administration is now a beacon of dysfunction. Allies, and enemies, are taking note.
By Leslie Vinjamuri – What does this mean for US leadership?

For some, Trump’s heavy-handed, even aggressive unilateralism is a symptom, not a cause, of the country’s relative decline.

According to this view, the country’s investment in liberal internationalism is an outdated strategy predicated on the historical need to counter the Soviet threat. It was designed for a different time, when the US’s military and economic power far surpassed that of any of its European counterparts, even when combined. The country’s retreat from the global stage is long overdue, so the argument goes.

In the absence of a clear national security imperative, foreign interventionism is both bad strategy and bad for the US. Trump’s style may be repugnant – but his America First instincts are not wrong.

But this is shortsighted.

Soft power is crucial to US leadership, more so now than ever before. In an era in which power is diffuse, and problems do not respect national borders, the capacity of any nation to influence others depends on the goodwill of a large number of state and non-state interests. more> https://goo.gl/qhPfM8

The Age of Biological Annihilation

By John C. Cannon – The loss of approximately 200 species a century might not seem extreme through the lens of one person’s lifespan, but it’s as much as 100 times faster than historical estimates, according to a 2015 study also led by Ceballos. He explained that under “normal circumstances,” it might have taken as many as 10,000 years for that many animals to vanish.

The researchers discovered that the populations of nearly one-third of these animals in this sample are on the decline. In terms of sheer numbers, the study’s maps show that perhaps half the number of individual animals that once inhabited the Earth with humans are gone—a loss that numbers in the billions.

The team also drilled down into the research on populations of 177 well-studied mammals to see how they have fared since 1900. They found every single one has lost at least 30 percent of its habitat, and around 40 percent of these mammals have lost 80 percent or more of their former ranges. more> https://goo.gl/o4dxkY