Tag Archives: Ecology

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>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Decades of Data on World’s Oceans Reveal a Troubling Oxygen Decline
By Takamitsu Ito, Shoshiro Minobe, Matthew C. Long and Curtis Deutsch – A new analysis of decades of data on oceans across the globe has revealed that the amount of dissolved oxygen contained in the water – an important measure of ocean health – has been declining for more than 20 years.

The majority of the oxygen in the ocean is absorbed from the atmosphere at the surface or created by photosynthesizing phytoplankton. Ocean currents then mix that more highly oxygenated water with subsurface water. But rising ocean water temperatures near the surface have made it more buoyant and harder for the warmer surface waters to mix downward with the cooler subsurface waters. Melting polar ice has added more freshwater to the ocean surface – another factor that hampers the natural mixing and leads to increased ocean more> stratification.

Falling oxygen levels in water have the potential to impact the habitat of marine organisms worldwide and in recent years led to more frequent “hypoxic events” that killed or displaced populations of fish, crabs and many other organisms. more> https://goo.gl/3F17TB

Related>

Updates from GE

The Power Of Data: How Software Is Helping Keep Iceland’s Lights On
By Julie Khoo – There are many reasons to visit Iceland. This former Viking stronghold is now the most peaceful country and home to the happiest and most literate people in the world — one in 10 Icelanders on average reportedly has published a book.

A nation of glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls, Iceland is also, at least metaphorically, one of the greenest places, generating all of its electricity from renewable sources such as hydropower and geothermal energy.

The grid receives electricity from generators that move at a constant frequency, just like the merry-go-round. When a power-hungry load suddenly disconnects from a high-inertia grid with lots of generators, the grid frequency will barely change.

But when a generator or load goes offline in a low-inertia grid like the one in Iceland, Landsnet has to act quickly to return the frequency to its normal level.

This can be a real headache. If the frequency drops or climbs too quickly, it can knock down parts of the grid and cause power failures. It can even cause a geothermal power station to automatically disconnect from the grid to protect the equipment from large stresses. Dramatic changes in frequency can also create “electrical islands” as different areas on the grid react to the changes. This can lead to blackouts. more> https://goo.gl/LyyN60

Updates from Aalto University

Aalto-2 satellite arrived at the International Space Station
By Jaan Praks – The robot arm was operated by US astronaut Peggy Whitson from NASA and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet from ESA.

‘I am glad that I could be a part of docking the Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the Space Station and welcome the QB50 satellites. They will be sent into space in May. One of them is Aalto-2 – the first satellite from Finland! I am very pleased that another European Space Agency member state is becoming “a true space nation”’, greeted Pesquet.

‘The Aalto-2 satellite will now spend a few weeks at the Space Station and wait for its turn to be launched. As the plan stands now, the small satellites will be detached to their orbits either on 8 or 15 May’, says Aalto Professor Jaan Praks, who is in charge of Aalto satellite projects. more> https://goo.gl/28ckbx

Related>

Updates from GE

Dam Powerful: These Engineers Are Connecting Hydropower To The Internet
By Tomas Kellner – There are many large waterways in North America. Then there’s the Saint Lawrence River, whose lumbering current links the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Montreal, Quebec’s business capital with 1.7 million inhabitants, fits on an island sliced off from the mainland by the waterway and its tributaries. Just west of the city, the river’s surface is so wide it could pass for a sea.

This abundance of water is a clue to why Quebec has become one of the world’s leaders in carbon-free energy. Lakes and rivers here pack enough power to supply the 7 million Quebecois with 95 percent of the electricity they need.

“This country and this region really know how to run hydropower well,” says Anne McEntee, vice president for renewable energy services at GE Renewable Energy. “But there’s no reason why you cannot get even better. For decades, advances in hydro have primarily been on the physical side of things, being able to get more out of your physical assets through redesign and engineering. We are now looking at digital applications as the next advance.”

“Our new software allows us to observe how the physical components behave in real time.”

McEntee says the insights allow customers to adapt the turbine’s operations to the specific conditions on-site, rather than strictly follow the manual. “We can take into account the real water and flow conditions versus what it was designed to do,” she says. “This allows us to make use of the error tolerance and get more power when we need it, like when the price is favorable. We are constantly looking for opportunities to squeeze out 1, 2, 3 percent of efficiency.” more> https://goo.gl/PTA8xd

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

A world-class long jump to a more social Europe

By Patricia Scherer – Who would not like to go to a free public school in Finland or buy their groceries at a local cooperative in Italy?

Who would not want to receive quality community-based support for their grandparent suffering from dementia in some remote rural village, following the Swedish model?

Which working parent would not want to have access to all-day childcare, as in France?

And breathe in fresh air in a buzzling downtown, is the case in car-free Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital?

Who would refuse the support, rather than stigmatization, that the Danish flexicurity system provides to laid-off workers?

Would you not want to vote electronically from home, as in Estonia?

Or take part in the Irish citizens’ assembly to decide on legal and policy issues facing the society you live in today?

All that is Europe; all those are benchmarks to aspire to. more> https://goo.gl/qXmAUX

Updates from GE

Octopus And Squid Evolution Is Officially Weirder Than We Could Have Ever Imagined
By Signe Dean – They edit their own genes!

Just when we thought octopuses couldn’t be any weirder, it turns out that they and their cephalopod brethren evolve differently from nearly every other organism on the planet.

In a surprising twist, scientists have discovered that octopuses, along with some squid and cuttlefish species, routinely edit their RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequences to adapt to their environment.

This is weird because that’s really not how adaptations usually happen in multicellular animals. When an organism changes in some fundamental way, it typically starts with a genetic mutation – a change to the DNA.

Those genetic changes are then translated into action by DNA’s molecular sidekick, RNA. You can think of DNA instructions as a recipe, while RNA is the chef that orchestrates the cooking in the kitchen of each cell, producing necessary proteins that keep the whole organism going.

But RNA doesn’t just blindly execute instructions – occasionally it improvises with some of the ingredients, changing which proteins are produced in the cell in a rare process called RNA editing.

When such an edit happens, it can change how the proteins work, allowing the organism to fine-tune its genetic information without actually undergoing any genetic mutations. But most organisms don’t really bother with this method, as it’s messy and causes problems more often that solving them.

“The consensus among folks who study such things is Mother Nature gave RNA editing a try, found it wanting, and largely abandoned it,” Anna Vlasits reports for Wired.

But now it looks like cephalopods didn’t get the memo. more> https://goo.gl/A1TS6O

Updates from Georgia Tech

New Projects Create a Foundation for Next-Gen Flexible Electronics
By Josh Brown – Four projects set to move forward at the Georgia Institute of Technology aim to lay the groundwork for manufacturing next-generation flexible electronics, which have the potential to make an impact on industries ranging from health care to defense.

Researchers at Georgia Tech are partnering with Boeing, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, General Electric, and DuPont as well other research institutions such as Binghamton University and Stanford University on the projects.

Flexible electronics are circuits and systems that can be bent, folded, stretched or conformed without losing their functionality. The systems are often created using machines that can print components such as logic, memory, sensors, batteries, antennas, and various passives using conductive ink on flexible surfaces. Combined with low-cost manufacturing processes, flexible hybrid electronics unlock new product possibilities for a wide range of electronics used in the health care, consumer products, automotive, aerospace, energy and defense sectors.

“Flexible electronics will make possible new products that will help us address problems associated with food supply, clean water, clean energy, health, infrastructure, and safety and security,” said Suresh Sitaraman, a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, who is leading Georgia Tech’s flexible electronics activities. more> https://goo.gl/qjx3UT

Related>