Good Conversations Might Need Some Regulation

You’ve probably already seen this pop up in your filter bubble a couple weeks ago but I want to make sure it’s not forgotten. Facebook (and likely other platforms) are being manipulated by powerful interests to edit what can be said and shared on their sites. They are self-regulating to benefit themselves at the cost of our democracies. Sacha Baron Cohen, known for his comedy, has gotten serious about calling out Facebook and the “silicon six” on their complicity in spreading hate. It’s up to us to support him and do our best to fight back against these corporate interests putting profits before all else.

Zuckerberg tried to portray the issue as one involving “choices” around “free expression.” But freedom of speech is not freedom of reach. Facebook alone already counts about a third of the world’s population among its users. Social media platforms should not give bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target victims.

Zuckerberg seemed to equate regulation of companies like his to the actions of “the most repressive societies.” This, from one of the six people who run the companies that decide what information so much of the world sees: Zuckerberg at Facebook; Sundar Pichai at Google; Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google’s parent company, Alphabet; Brin’s ex-sister-in-law, Susan Wojcicki, at YouTube; and Jack Dorsey at Twitter. These super-rich “Silicon Six” care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism — six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law. Surely, instead of letting the Silicon Six decide the fate of the world order, our democratically elected representatives should have at least some say.

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Electric Power from Rivers Meeting Oceans

ocean shore

Renewable energy comes in many forms with new innovative approaches being discovered very so often. A more recent approach to carbon neutral renewable energy can be found where two bodies of water meet. In an innovative approach, scientists have found a way to create electricity from locations where fresh water bodies (usually rivers) meet salty ocean water. The process has been proven to work; however, it requires a large quantity of water to make it profitable. The next phase will be to try out the process at scale and to ensure there are no negative impacts on the local ecosystem.

There are several ways to generate power from that mixing. And a couple of blue energy power plants have been built. But their high cost has prevented widespread adoption. All blue energy approaches rely on the fact that salts are composed of ions, or chemicals that harbor a positive or negative charge. In solids, the positive and negative charges attract one another, binding the ions together. (Table salt, for example, is a compound made from positively charged sodium ions bound to negatively charged chloride ions.) In water, these ions detach and can move independently.

By pumping the positive ions—like sodium or potassium—to the other side of a semipermeable membrane, researchers can create two pools of water: one with a positive charge, and one with a negative charge. If they then dunk electrodes in the pools and connect them with a wire, electrons will flow from the negatively charged to the positively charged side, generating electricity.

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Thoughtful Reforestation

Forest

Forests make for naturally wonderful carbon sinks and thanks to a myriad of efforts we should see reforestation efforts grow over the next few years. This is all good to witness and we can all help by planting a tree. There are ways to tend to a forest for maximum carbon capture which scientists are hoping to perfect. It’s one thing to have a forest and it’s an even better thing to have a resilient high-quality forest which attracts a diversity of animals.

There are a number of ways that we can ensure new forests are resilient to these impacts. First, having a diversity of species with a wide variety of traits in the forest landscape reduces the risk that a single event will wipe out large parts of the ecosystem. This is because tree species have different resistances and vulnerabilities.

For example, pests and diseases are likely to migrate as the climate changes. In a single-species plantation, that could wipe out the whole forest. But with many different species in the area, parts of the forest will be resilient.

We should also plant and introduce species that are adapted to the future climatic conditions projected for the area. For example, if climate models project a drier climate with increased droughts, then including native species with tolerance to drought would increase the chances of that forest staying resilient, and therefore maintaining its carbon store for longer.

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Let’s Use Airships Instead of Airplanes

Travelling via airplane is safe for you as an individual, but collectively all of using planes is unsafe. At ground level the emissions from airplanes are bad and are even more damaging when released high in the atmosphere (where you know, planes fly). If we’re going to survive the climate crisis then we’ll need to all reduce our use of modern airplanes.

Let’s use airships instead. More commonly known as blimps, these large airborne vessels can transport cargo more efficiently than boats or planes, they are just lacking the airport infrastructure. Lockheed Martin has recently found a way to make them more efficient and is proposing airships as a new way for luxury travel.

A paper in the journal Energy Conservation and Management published in September posits that just one airship could move 21,000 tons of stuff using almost no energy at all if we used airships to harness the free winds of the jet stream, the narrow band of fast-moving air above the troposphere, where planes fly. These winds, which average 100 miles per hour and can be as speedy as 250 mph, could propel an airship from Denver to China in about seven days or from Los Angeles to Tokyo in four, says Julian David Hunt, of Austria’s International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis and the paper’s first author.

These lower-flying vehicles, known as hybrids, are likely what we’ll see in the nearer future. Aerospace company Lockheed Martin’s hybrid prototype sports three cartoonish bubbles up front to help with navigation and engines to assist with maneuverability. The company’s hybrid design uses 20% aerodynamic lift — a lightly fuel-powered boost for a bit of a “plane-like effect” — and helium for the remaining 80% buoyant lift, Boyd says. The end result uses significantly less fuel than a plane and can access many areas other vehicles can’t.

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Modifying Crops to Survive the Climate Crisis

lab

Presently crop failures are increasing around the world and this will only get worse unless we act. Large teams of scientists researching crops are examining ways to help them survive our warming planet. They’re looking at less commonly known plants which can survive in harsh climates to help modify our crops.

It’s an urgent mission. A food crisis is looming, says the International Panel for Climate Change, with floods and droughts linked to climate change already affecting the supply and price of food. A recent report warns that the amount of crops produced globally is set to drop by as much as 30 percent in the next 30 years. Water shortages add stress to the system, threatening supplies of wheat, maize, and rice—which are included in about half of all the calories we consume.

The idea is to help crops become stronger and more adaptable through a breeding process that tweaks domesticated varieties with genes borrowed from those untamed cousins that survive drought, salinity, or disease.

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