Category Archives: Energy & emissions

How to Save the Human Race

BOOK REVIEW

World Population and Human Values: A New Reality, Authors: Jonas Salk and Jonathan Salk.

By Gabrielle Levy – Until only recently, the whole of human history has been marked by population growth, first gradual and then, in the past two hundred years, a sudden explosion. But in the last decades of the 20th century, population growth began to slow, and eventually, it will plateau or even decline.

The moment at which growth goes from accelerating to decelerating, according to a theory posited by Dr. Salk is called an inflection point – and would be filled with turmoil and conflict, but also opportunity.

Salk characterizes the time before the inflection point as Epoch A, and in that period, people were focused on their own betterment and achievement as necessary to capitalize on the potential for great growth. But going forward, after the inflection point in Epoch B, people will need to be more collaborative and sustainability-oriented. This plays out now in issues like climate change, where the world must work together to combat the issue.

The book has a particular kind of resonance and a particular kind of relevance at this moment in time, because we’re really seeing the pull between two differing value systems, and making decisions as a species about how we’re going to deal with the future. It’s always been a meaningful book, but I think it’s particularly poignant at this moment in time. more>

The Failures of Globalism

BOOK REVIEW

Us Vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism, Author: Ian Bremmer.

By Gabrielle Levy – If the six and a half decades that followed the end of World War II were a triumph of globalism, an era of prosperity and peace as the world grew increasingly interconnected, the second decade of the 21st century has seen the rise of a new populism that has pushed back.

Convulsions of anger – at corrupt government elites, at the floods of refugees fleeing sectarian conflict, at the loss of jobs as workers are increasingly replaced by automation and artificial intelligence – culminated in the pair of 2016 events, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, that turned conventional wisdom on its head.

The biggest piece, I think, has already happened. When globalism started, after World War II was over, the United States recognized that we never want to have a flight like that again, so we’ve got to do something about it. We’re going to rebuild our former enemies – the Germans, the Japanese – and we’re going to build the United Nations.

More broadly, as it continues, it’s going to be a lot of opposition to the United States sending troops fighting in other people’s battles, like we’ve seen in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria. It’s going to be a lot less support for immigration into the U.S., unless you’ve got a skill set or a lot of money, and we’re already seeing that start to happen.

And it’s possibly going to lead to more trade disputes, certainly in terms of big technology, where, instead of having one global free market, we end up having much more fragmentation of a marketplace with more strategic sectors.

And some of that is because the United States is not willing to promote free multilateral trade organizations, but some of it is because the Chinese are building an alternative system that has no global free trade at all.

It’s all just going to be linked to Beijing. So when you put that all together, you start to see what the future of this world will look like.

Globalization can turn a virtuous cycle into a vicious one – where globalization improves people’s lives, only to raise their expectations. That, in turn, raises frustrations when those expectations are met.

In China, the growing middle class and the rising wages risk threatening the very economic engine – cheap labor – that made that progress possible. Can developing countries avoid this trap? more>

Updates from GE

Going For Great: In A Deal Valued At $6.5 Billion, GE Jet Engines Will Power American’s New Dreamliner Fleet
By Tomas Kellner – American Airlines, which helped launch GE into commercial aviation 45 years ago, said it would power 47 additional new Boeing 787 with GE Aviation’s GEnx-1B engines. The $6.5 billion deal includes a 20-year service agreement. This order follows a previous order for 42 such planes placed several years ago.

Airlines have ordered more than 2,000 GEnx engines since 2004, when Boeing selected the model for its 787 Dreamliner jets. Eager to save weight and improve efficiency, GE engineers took the GE90, the world’s most powerful jet engine developed a decade earlier, and remodeled it.

The GEnx has already entered the record books. In 2011, a GEnx-1B-powered Dreamliner flew halfway around the world on a tank of gas, then finished the job on the next tank. The journey set a weight-class distance record for the 10,337-nautical mile first leg and a record for quickest around-the-world flight at an astonishing 42 hours and 27 minutes.

What’s next? GE engineers could upgrade the engines with space-age materials called ceramic matrix composites, or CMCs. CMCs can handle temperatures as high as 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit and withstand the punishing forces inside the engines. more>

Will China Really Supplant US Economic Hegemony?

By Kenneth Rogoff – True, it is highly unlikely that President Donald Trump’s huffing and puffing and bluffing will bring about a large-scale return of manufacturing jobs to the US. But the US has the potential to expand the size of its manufacturing base anyway, in terms of output if not jobs.

But China’s rapid growth has been driven mostly by technology catch-up and investment. And while China, unlike the Soviet Union, has shown vastly more competence in homegrown innovation – Chinese companies are already leading the way in the next generation of 5G mobile networks – and its cyber-warfare capacity is fully on par with the US, keeping close to the cutting edge is not the same thing as defining it. China’s gains still come largely from adoption of Western technology, and in some cases, appropriation of intellectual property.

In the economy of the twenty-first century, other factors, including rule of law, as well as access to energy, arable land, and clean water may also become increasingly important. China is following its own path and may yet prove that centralized systems can push development further and faster than anyone had imagined, far beyond simply being a growing middle-income country. But China’s global dominance is hardly the predetermined certainty that so many experts seem to assume.

China might lead the digital future if the US drops the ball, but it won’t become the dominant global power simply because it has a larger population. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Simulation Supports Program to Help Pilots in Degraded Visual Environments
By John Toon – A degraded visual environment occurs when helicopters landing on loose soil, such as desert terrain, stir up dust that creates brownout conditions which make it challenging for pilots to see obstacles on the ground. The simulation will support the development of a multi-sensor system designed to give U.S. Army rotorcraft pilots better situational awareness during these challenging conditions.

GTRI researchers are developing different ways to show fused sensor images to pilots during brownout conditions. In an Army cockpit simulator lab, experienced rotorcraft pilots will use the simulations to determine how information should be presented during high-stress approach, landing and takeoff conditions. The pilot feedback will assist the Army in defining the Pilot Vehicle Interface for the new Degraded Visual Environment (DVE) system that will be used on Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters. It will also be used to inform a milestone decision for integration into the Army aviation platforms.

The simulation project is challenging because the data comes from different sources, at different data rates and different resolutions. The emulator must work accurately under varying conditions, including daytime and nighttime operations. Because the system is used to analyze pilot interaction with the new sensors, the provided solution includes flexibility to easily reconfigure various parameters such as symbology sets, types of sensors, sensor performance characteristics, and symbology color. more>

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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

more>

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>

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Knee-jerk cynicism is a failure of critical reasoning

BOOK REVIEW

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>

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>