Tag Archives: Earth

Updates from ITU

Earth observation for weather prediction – solving the interference problem
By ITU News – “Today, several dozen satellites contribute to the accumulation of critical knowledge about the Earth’s system, enabling scientists to describe specific links between a major natural disturbance in the upper atmosphere, and changes in the weather thousands of miles away,” says Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau.

“As accurate weather predictions need to start from the best possible estimate of the current state of the atmosphere, it is crucial that meteorologists have real-time, accurate global observations about what is happening in the Earth’s atmosphere over land and oceans. And for this, they rely on space sensing.”

Space sensing relies on the deployment of sensors to obtain data critical for Earth observation from space. Active sensors are radar systems on spaceborne platforms. They obtain data through the transmission and reception of radiowaves. Passive sensors, meanwhile, are very sensitive receivers that measure the electromagnetic energy emitted and scattered by the Earth, and the chemical constituents in the Earth’s atmosphere. They require protection from radio-frequency interference.

Spaceborne sensors measure the background natural radiative emission floor, therefore any man-made signal (e.g. communications, radars) that rises above this natural emission floor will likely interfere with the measurements. This interference can be tolerated only if its energy is well below the sensor sensitivity. more>

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‘We Can’t Recycle Our Way Out of This Problem’: Ben & Jerry’s Bans Single-Use Plastics

By Lorraine Chow – Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announced major efforts on Monday to quickly curb its use of single-use plastics.

All together, the move is expected to prevent 2.5 million plastic straws and 30 million plastic spoons from being handed out each year, Jenna Evans, Ben & Jerry’s Global Sustainability Manager, said in a press release.

“We’re not going to recycle our way out of this problem,” she said. “We, and the rest of the world, need to get out of single-use plastic.”

In response to the initiative, Greenpeace praised the brand for setting clear, short-term targets and for acknowledging that recycling alone is not enough to solve the world’s mounting plastic problem.

We’ve all been taught that recycling is an important environmental responsibility, but of the 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste generated since the 1950s, only 9 percent has been recycled, according to one recent study. What’s more, recycling plastics only perpetuates the use of fossil fuel-based polymers. more>

Can Sustainable Agriculture Survive Under Capitalism?

By Sophie Yeo – Agriculture is responsible for around 9 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions—from fertilizer releasing nitrous oxide, for instance, or from cows emitting methane. And large-scale farming isn’t just bad for the environment; the application of pesticides has serious health implications for those who work on farms. Recent studies have linked high pesticide exposure to a poor sense of smell and a doubled risk of cardiovascular disease among Latino farm workers.

Sustainable agriculture offers a way to bypass these pitfalls. Instead of filling their baskets at Walmart, ethically minded consumers can buy local and organic produce directly from the farmer who grew it, whether at farmers’ markets or through a community-supported agriculture program, reducing food miles and avoiding the industrial contamination and erosion associated with conventional agriculture.

But Ryanne Pilgeram worries that this improved model of agriculture is fundamentally incapable of surviving in a corporatized America—and that the sacrifices these people are making to survive are steadily chipping away at their claims of sustainability.

One problem is the price of the produce.

Then there’s the problem that the system ultimately rests on a sequence of compromises and sacrifices that the farmers themselves must make, regardless of their ideological commitment to the cause. These sacrifices are personal, environmental, and social. “Only the select few, the … richest amongst us are really taking care of land in a truly sustainable way,” one farmer reported.

“The economic system that we have in place makes it impossible, really, to create a socially just food system. It’s not possible under capitalism,” Pilgeram says. more>

Globalization at a Crossroads

By Gordon Brown – Whether or not one realizes it, 2018 may have been a historic turning point. Poorly managed globalization has led to nationalist “take-back-control” movements and a rising wave of protectionism that is undermining the 70-year-old American-led international order. The stage is set for China to develop its own parallel international institutions, auguring a world divided between two competing global-governance systems.

Whatever happens in the next few years, it is already clear that the 2008-2018 decade marked an epochal shift in the balance of economic power.

Whereas around 40% of production, manufacturing, trade, and investment was located outside the West in 2008, over 60% is today.

For decades after its formation in the 1970s, the Group of Seven (G7) – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the US – essentially presided over the entire world economy. But by 2008, I and others had begun to discern a changing of the guard. Behind the scenes, North American and European leaders were debating whether it was time to create a new premier forum for economic cooperation that would include emerging economies.

These debates were often heated. On one side were those who wanted to keep the group small (one early US proposal envisioned a G7+5); on the other side were those who wanted the group to be as inclusive as possible. To this day, the results of those earlier negotiations are not fully understood.

The current trade conflict between the United States and China is symptomatic of a larger transition in global financial power. On the surface, the Trump administration’s confrontation with China is about trade, with disputes over currency manipulation thrown in for good measure. But from Trump’s speeches, one gathers that the real battle is about something bigger: the future of technological dominance and global economic power.

While Trump at least detects the growing threat to American supremacy, he has ignored the most obvious strategy for responding to it: namely, a united front with US allies and partners around the world. Instead, Trump has asserted a prerogative to act unilaterally, as if America still rules over a unipolar world. As a result, a trail of geopolitical ruin already lies in his wake. more>

Are We Living Through Climate Change’s Worst-Case Scenario?

By Robinson Meyer – The year 2018 was not an easy one for planet Earth.

In the United States, carbon emissions leapt back up, making their largest year-over-year increase since the end of the Great Recession. This matched the trend across the globe. According to two major studies, greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide shot up in 2018—accelerating like a “speeding freight train,” as one scientist put it.

Many economists expect carbon emissions to drop somewhat throughout the next few decades. But maybe they won’t. If 2018 is any indication, meekly positive energy trends will not handily reduce emissions, even in developed economies like the United States. It raises a bleak question:

Are we currently on the worst-case scenario for climate change?

When climate scientists want to tell a story about the future of the planet, they use a set of four standard scenarios called “representative concentration pathways,” or RCPs. RCPs are ubiquitous in climate science, appearing in virtually any study that uses climate models to investigate the 21st century. They’ve popped up in research about subjects as disparate as southwestern mega-droughts, future immigration flows to Europe, and poor nighttime sleep quality.

Each RCP is assigned a number that describes how the climate will fare in the year 2100. Generally, a higher RCP number describes a scarier fate: It means that humanity emitted more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the 21st century, further warming the planet and acidifying the ocean. The best-case scenario is called RCP 2.6. The worst case is RCP 8.5.

“God help us if 8.5 turns out to be the right scenario,” Jackson told me. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Growing Pile of Human and Animal Waste Harbors Threats, Opportunities
By Josh Brown – As demand for meat and dairy products increases across the world, much attention has landed on how livestock impact the environment, from land usage to greenhouse gas emissions.

Now researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are highlighting another effect from animals raised for food and the humans who eat them: the waste they all leave behind.

In a paper published November 13 in Nature Sustainability, the research team put forth what they believe is the first global estimate of annual recoverable human and animal fecal biomass. In 2014, the most recent year with data, the number was 4.3 billion tons and growing, and waste from livestock outweighed that from humans five to one at the country level.

“Exposure to both human and animal waste represent a threat to public health, particularly in low-income areas of the world that may not have resources to implement the best management and sanitation practices,” said Joe Brown, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “But estimating the amount of recoverable feces in the world also highlights the enormous potential from a resource perspective.” more>

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Updates from ITU

World Space Week – ITU’s contribution to a world united by space
By Alexandre Vallet – This year’s theme of World Space Week, “Space Unites the World,” resounds with the never-ending work carried out by the entire ITU membership since the 1960s to ensure that adequate radio frequencies are available for space activities.

Only six years after the historical first satellite launch of Sputnik in 1957, ITU organized the Extraordinary Administrative Radio Conference to allocate frequency bands for space radiocommunication purposes in Geneva from 7 October to 8 November 1963.

The Conference, which was attended by more than 400 delegates from 70 ITU Member States, allocated for the first time radio frequencies for outer space activities, totaling about 6 GHz for the various kinds of space services and for radio astronomy, 2.8 GHz of which were for communication satellites. After the Conference, about 15 per cent of the Table of Frequency Allocations was available for outer space. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Looking Back in Time to Watch for a Different Kind of Black Hole
By John Toon – Black holes form when stars die, allowing the matter in them to collapse into an extremely dense object from which not even light can escape. Astronomers theorize that massive black holes could also form at the birth of a galaxy, but so far nobody has been able to look far enough back in time to observe the conditions creating these direct collapse black holes (DCBH).

The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2021, might be able look far enough back into the early Universe to see a galaxy hosting a nascent massive black hole. Now, a simulation done by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology has suggested what astronomers should look for if they search the skies for a DCBH in its early stages.

DCBH formation would be initiated by the collapse of a large cloud of gas during the early formation of a galaxy, said John H. Wise, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Physics and the Center for Relativistic Astrophysics. But before astronomers could hope to catch this formation, they would have to know what to look for in the spectra that the telescope could detect, which is principally infrared.

Black holes take about a million years to form, a blip in galactic time. In the DCBH simulation, that first step involves gas collapsing into a supermassive star as much as 100,000 times more massive than our sun. The star then undergoes gravitational instability and collapses into itself to form a massive black hole. Radiation from the black hole then triggers the formation of stars over period of about 500,000 years, the simulation suggested. more>

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Anthropic arrogance

By David P Barash – Welcome to the ‘anthropic principle’, a kind of Goldilocks phenomenon or ‘intelligent design’ for the whole Universe. According to its proponents, the Universe is fine-tuned for human life.

The message is clearly an artificial one and not the result of random noise. Or maybe the Universe itself is alive, and the various physical and mathematical constants are part of its metabolism. Such speculation is great fun, but it’s science fiction, not science.

It should be clear at this point that the anthropic argument readily devolves – or dissolves – into speculative philosophy and even theology. Indeed, it is reminiscent of the ‘God of the gaps’ perspective, in which God is posited whenever science hasn’t (yet) provided an answer.

Calling upon God whenever there is a gap in our scientific understanding may be tempting, but it is not even popular among theologians, because as science grows, the gaps – and thus, God – shrinks. It remains to be seen whether the anthropic principle, in whatever form, succeeds in expanding our sense of ourselves beyond that illuminated by science. I wouldn’t bet on it. more>

The Next Trend In Travel Is… Don’t.

By Allison Jane Smith – Bali is in the midst of an ecological crisis. Half of the Indonesian island’s rivers have dried up. Its beaches are eroding. In 2017, officials declared a “garbage emergency” across a six-kilometer stretch of Bali’s coast. At the peak of the clean-up, hundreds of cleaners removed 100 tons of debris from the beaches each day.

The cause? Too many tourists — who just keep coming. This year, the Indonesian tourism ministry hopes Bali attracts 7 million foreign tourists, to an island of only 4 million residents.

Bali is one among many places to feel the ill effects of mass tourism. Thailand closed an entire island because litter and food waste from tourists were destroying the island’s ecosystem.

In Venice, Italy, colossal cruise ships tear straight through the city and affordable Airbnb options push residents out of the housing market.

Across Spain, anti-tourism graffiti can be found in Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Mallorca, declaring “tourism kills,” “tourists go home” and “why call it tourism season if we can’t shoot them?”

When tourism dominates an economy, some governments prioritize tourists over their own citizens. Around the world, people are evicted from their homes to make way for tourism developments.

Globally, displacement for tourism development — including hotels, resorts, airports, and cruise ports — is a growing problem. In India, tens of thousands of indigenous people were illegally evicted from villages inside tiger reserves.

No wonder even those in the business of selling travel are urging tourists to reconsider visiting certain destinations. more>