Is Technology Failing Us?

Some excerpts from a magazine article by Chris Turner on a new direction for technology:

The degradation of the environment is the biggest problem of our age, but the high-tech industry’s primary focus remains on creating gee-whiz gizmos and applications – not green technologies. If as much time, energy and resources were devoted to green tech as they were to wireless devices and’s we could rescue a dying planet. And then we could truly call this a revolution

…Here’s what’s being missed: a cluster of problems that I’ll place under the rough heading “environmental degradation.” I’d hate to imply that any one aspect of the process by which we are making our planet unfit for human life is more troubling than any other, but the one in particular — the one that should really be keeping our engineers and genius inventors up at night, working on solutions — is global warming.

…Can I take it for granted that I don’t need to tell you why the degradation of the environment is the biggest problem of our age? That it is the threat to our livelihood — the World War, the Great Depression, the would-be Nuclear Winter — against which we need to mobilize the full power of our resources? I would like to think I can take this for granted.

…I’d like simply to assume that you know that it — this degradation, this destruction, this systemic poisoning — supersedes the current or near-future state of any national economy. That it is an unfolding calamity far greater than a wave of new tensions in Sino-American relations or another round of violence in the Middle East. That it is not an “issue” the way, say, the balance of powers between federal and provincial governments is an “issue.” That it is a cluster of events — events resulting from human activity on this planet — that are demonstrably, measurably happening. That it is not, therefore, an ideological construct. That while it might be possible to assemble an argument or voice an opinion about clean air and water, and fertile soil, and a habitable climate, that these opinions are not right or wrong so much as utterly irrelevant. That, for example, the sun’s ultraviolet light, when it reaches the earth without being filtered through a layer of ozone, is capable of producing malignant melanoma in the skin tissue of any person, totally regardless of that person’s opinion about the relative importance of “environmental issues.” Can I take all of this for granted?

…There is a high-profile but somewhat superficial reason to posit the idea that green tech (for desperate want of a better catch-all term) could become the elusive Next Big Thing in the high-tech world. That reason is this: Both Bill Gates and Paul Allen have invested heavily in renewable-energy companies. Also, like the various communications technologies before them, green technologies have the potential to create an enormous re-ordering of the business world. “I believe fuel cell vehicles will finally end the 100-year reign of the internal combustion engine” — that’s how one starry-eyed evangelist phrased it.

…And because, most of all, these are the things we actually can’t live without. Peer-to-peer technology, the wireless web, Super Bowl commercials starring sock puppets-the relative merits of all of these are open to discussion. Here’s something that isn’t: the absolute, bottom-line necessity of clean air, potable water, fertile soil, climactic conditions favourable to human survival. It’s not debatable, not something to be put off till we all have more time, not a luxury or a lifestyle choice. Surely you understand that. This is the revolution we need.


via Will Pate

International Paper to protect species in 5.5 million acres

International Paper has struck a deal with the U.S. Department of the Interior to conduct extensive ecological surveys and conservation projects to help recover imperiled aquatic species and restore their habitat.

The 10-year deal involves 5.5 million acres of IP’s forest lands in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The Interior department will assist IP in the project, which covers an area larger than the state of Massachusetts.

International Paper, which employs about 3,000 people in Memphis, is the world’s largest paper and forest products company. Businesses include printing papers, packaging, building materials, chemical products and distribution.

IP is the largest private landowner in the United States, with some 10 million acres of forest land. It is also the world’s largest seedling grower, producing more than 425 million seedlings annually.

The Southeast is the center of temperate aquatic diversity. Freshwater ecosystems there feature the highest diversity of freshwater mussels and temperate freshwater fishes in the world.
Nearly one-third of the 500 native fishes in those states are considered imperiled, and about 75% of the Southeast’s 270 species of mu

Link IP to protect species in 5.5 million-acre deal

Global Warming: Is Nuclear Power Green?

My concerns are nuclear waste disposal and the potential for terrorism. I think we need to de-centralize our sources of energy rather than concentrate them in a few huge power plants.

James Lovelock, an independent scientist and the creator of the Gaia hypothesis of the Earth as a self-regulating organism, says that civilisation is in imminent danger and nuclear power is the only green solution because we have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources.

What makes global warming so serious and so urgent is that the great Earth system, Gaia, is trapped in a vicious circle of positive feedback. Extra heat from any source, whether from greenhouse gases, the disappearance of Arctic ice or the Amazon forest, is amplified, and its effects are more than additive. It is almost as if we had lit a fire to keep warm, and failed to notice, as we piled on fuel, that the fire was out of control and the furniture had ignited. When that happens, little time is left to put out the fire before it consumes the house. Global warming, like a fire, is accelerating and almost no time is left to act.

So what should we do? We can just continue to enjoy a warmer 21st century while it lasts, and make cosmetic attempts, such as the Kyoto Treaty, to hide the political embarrassment of global warming, and this is what I fear will happen in much of the world. When, in the 18th century, only one billion people lived on Earth, their impact was small enough for it not to matter what energy source they used.

But with six billion, and growing, few options remain; we can not continue drawing energy from fossil fuels and there is no chance that the renewables, wind, tide and water power can provide enough energy and in time. If we had 50 years or more we might make these our main sources. But we do not have 50 years; the Earth is already so disabled by the insidious poison of greenhouse gases that even if we stop all fossil fuel burning immediately, the consequences of what we have already done will last for 1,000 years. Every year that we continue burning carbon makes it worse for our descendants and for civilisation.

Worse still, if we burn crops grown for fuel this could hasten our decline. Agriculture already uses too much of the land needed by the Earth to regulate its climate and chemistry. A car consumes 10 to 30 times as much carbon as its driver; imagine the extra farmland required to feed the appetite of cars.

By all means, let us use the small input from renewables sensibly, but only one immediately available source does not cause global warming and that is nuclear energy. True, burning natural gas instead of coal or oil releases only half as much carbon dioxide, but unburnt gas is 25 times as potent a greenhouse agent as is carbon dioxide. Even a small leakage would neutralise the advantage of gas.

The prospects are grim, and even if we act successfully in amelioration, there will still be hard times, as in war, that will stretch our grandchildren to the limit. We are tough and it would take more than the climate catastrophe to eliminate all breeding pairs of humans; what is at risk is civilisation. As individual animals we are not so special, and in some ways are like a planetary disease, but through civilisation we redeem ourselves and become a precious asset for the Earth; not least because through our eyes the Earth has seen herself in all her glory.

There is a chance we may be saved by an unexpected event such as a series of volcanic eruptions severe enough to block out sunlight and so cool the Earth. But only losers would bet their lives on such poor odds. Whatever doubts there are about future climates, there are no doubts that greenhouse gases and temperatures both are rising.

We have stayed in ignorance for many reasons; important among them is the denial of climate change in the US where governments have failed to give their climate scientists the support they needed. The Green lobbies, which should have given priority to global warming, seem more concerned about threats to people than with threats to the Earth, not noticing that we are part of the Earth and wholly dependent upon its well being. It may take a disaster worse than last summer’s European deaths to wake us up.

Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Nearly one third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen. If we fail to concentrate our minds on the real danger, which is global warming, we may die even sooner, as did more than 20,000 unfortunates from overheating in Europe last summer.

I find it sad and ironic that the UK, which leads the world in the quality of its Earth and climate scientists, rejects their warnings and advice, and prefers to listen to the Greens. But I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy.

Even if they were right about its dangers, and they are not, its worldwide use as our main source of energy would pose an insignificant threat compared with the dangers of intolerable and lethal heat waves and sea levels rising to drown every coastal city of the world. We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear – the one safe, available, energy source – now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.

Link Argument

BusinessWeek on America’s Leadership

Here’s the last paragraph of the BusinessWeek Editorial for the May 24, 2004 Issue:

The fiercest anti-American backlash in history may well be under way. The policy of unilateral preemption and its inept execution has, in the end, made the U.S. less secure. The barbaric beheading of Nicholas Berg is a grim reminder that America faces a long war against a savage enemy. It must regain the respect of those it needs to win that war. To do that, America needs to change its rules of engagement not only in Iraq but in the world at large. A nation that relies on its global ties for economic growth, on immigration for its dynamism, and on foreign capital for its finances cannot long ignore virulent anti-Americanism before facing dire consequences. Restoring America’s respect in Iraq is but the first step in restoring America’s leadership and moral authority around the world.

Link BW Online | May 24, 2004 | Iraq: How To Repair America’s Moral Authority

Are suicide bombers stupid?

Here are the Five Laws of Stupidity according to Carlo Cipolla:

1 – Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
2 – The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
3 – A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
4 – Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
5 – A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

Types of Human Actions
Hapless: Someone whose actions tend to generate self-damage, but also to create advantage for someone else.
Intelligent: Someone whose actions tend to generate self-advantage, as well as advantage for others.
Bandit: Someone whose actions tend to generate self-advantage while causing damage to others.
Stupid: A stupid person causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.