Wild Animals Keep our Cities Clean

CBC’s ecological science show is taking an unorthodox look at the vermin and critters in our cities by showing how they help us. On Jan. 31 The Nature of Things will air the episode, trailer above, all about how animals have adapted to urban environments and how those animals end up helping humans. It’s a neat approach to animals that otherwise get a bad reputation.

In Toronto, we join urban wildlife behaviour expert Suzanne MacDonald and Toronto Wildlife Centre Team Leader Andrew Wight on their hunt for the elusive opossum. Opossums are native to the southern United States, but in recent years, climate change has extended their habitat north to Canada. They look fierce and foreboding but they are one of the shyest scavengers of all. We discover how they help make our cities healthier by eating our refuse – they can even digest bone. They also eat and eliminate disease-laden ticks.

In Manhattan, we meet a team of young entomologists and learn the importance of ants in keeping city streets clean. There are over 2,000 ants for every human. The pavement ant, a rarely studied species, picks up and eliminates the food that people drop. These foraging ants can lift over ten times their weight and eat as much or more than rats in the city. Unlike rats, they do not transmit human diseases.

Check it out.

In Ontario, People Support Education

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Educators in Ontario are currently on rolling strikes because the provincial Conservative government has chosen to weak havoc on the education system. Since they’ve been elected they’ve sliced and diced all that matters to ensure Ontario has a functioning education system (they’ve even cited chronically-underperforming Alabama as an educational state to follow). You can see a full list of cuts by the Conservatives here.

It’s clear that people are sick of the Conservative’s incompetence and are actively supporting the education system. The government launched a propaganda campaign to pay parents for days their kids missed school due to labour actions. This campaign has utterly backfired and parents receiving the money are donating it back to the school system and educators – where the money should go in the first place.

“It’s amazing that while the Ford gov. is trying to win a public relations battle against teachers, they essentially proved they could provide real childcare subsidies if they have the interest and willpower to do it,” wrote MPP Chris Glover on Twitter earlier today.

Some parents are even choosing to take the money and donate it back to the education system.

“Show our educators your support & Stephen Lecce and Doug Ford your displeasure. Let them know that as a province, we do NOT accept their decisions,” reads an online petition started by parent Amy Llewellyn.

“We want money in our schools, not our pockets.”

Read more.

Governments Reacting to the Failures of the Gig Economy

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According to economists the economy is the labour market is fine as unemployment is relatively low. The truth is different from the on-paper measurements. High employment numbers don’t mean much if the jobs don’t pay well and the working conditions are miserable. The modern “gig economy” is to blame for this counterintuitive economic situation. Governments are starting to catch on that these “modern” jobs aren’t nearly as beneficial to workers or the economy as more traditional jobs were. As a result new laws are being passed to prevent workers from being exploited by the likes of Uber and other gig economy giants.

AB 5’s reclassification provision would also allow gig workers to unionize, granting them a modicum of protection. Big Tech greeted previous unionization efforts with outright hostility. In November, Google publicly fired five engineers involved in union activity. Other companies, like Uber, use antitrust law to bar drivers from collective action to address their concerns.

A more radical approach would be to break up the Big Tech monopolies that have such a tight grip on California and its economy, making it more difficult for these companies to dictate the terms of employment. Presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have vowed to dismantle giants like Facebook and Google if elected. Sanders’s plan, arguably the most ambitious, would order companies to offer workers more benefits and higher wages and pensions. Workers would also need to make up at least 45 percent of companies’ board memberships, ensuring that they would have a seat at the table when executives make decisions that affect their livelihood.

Read more.

Tips for Remaining Anonymous in the Surveillance Age

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Surveillance capitalism benefits companies who have large datasets about what people do and where they are – without the consent of those being monitored. The pervasive modern surveillance which is around us everyday from our phones to private cameras can be connected to large corporations or governments for nefarious purposes. Sometimes it can seem innocuous (but not positive) like ads or utterly terrifying like what’s happening in China.

So what to do if you don’t want to be monitored? Step one is to constantly pester politicians about it. You can use privacy enhancing browser extensions or go a little further and get glasses that prevents cameras from seeing your face.

Today, artificial intelligence (AI) technology, such as facial recognition, has become more widespread in public and private spaces — including schools, retail storesairports, concert venues and even to unlock the newest iPhones. Civil-liberty groups concerned about the potential for misuse have urged politicians to regulate the systems. A recent Washington Post investigation, for instance, revealed FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used facial recognition to scan millions of Americans’ driver’s licenses without their knowledge to identify suspects and undocumented immigrants.

The motivation to seek out antidotes to an over-powerful force has political and symbolic significance for Doctorow, an L.A.-based science-fiction author and privacy advocate. His father’s family fled the Soviet Union, which used surveillance to control the masses.

“We are entirely too sanguine about the idea that surveillance technologies will be built by people we agree with for goals we are happy to support,” he said. “For this technology to be developed and for there to be no countermeasures is a road map to tyranny.”

Read more.

Keeping Cool While the Planet Warms

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Air conditioning demand is expected to triple by 2030 which means that the energy demand from cooling is to rise sharply. As the planet warms the need for air conditioners for survival will (ironically and understandably) increase globally. Obviously we need to switch to 100% renewable energy as quickly as possible to limit the ongoing harm from AC units. We can also produce more efficient and environmentally friendly AC units, and that’s exactly what some organizations are trying to do.

If we could make the most commonly sold, entry-level RACs four to five times more energy efficient and use low or no global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants, we could mitigate the need for an additional 2,000 GW of power generation capacity – a figure equivalent to the total global coal-powered plant capacity in operation today. 

The Global Cooling Prize – which was launched by RMI, the Government of India and Mission Innovation in 2018 – set out to do just that. The prize invited innovators from across the globe to submit their ideas for an affordable breakthrough cooling solution that had at least five-times less climate impact than the most commonly sold RAC on the Indian market today. More than 2,100 teams from 95 countries registered for the prize. Out of 139 detailed technical applications submitted by teams from 31 countries, the top eight solutions were shortlisted as finalists by the prize coalition in November 2019. Collectively, the finalists comprise around 25% of the total market share of RACs globally and have the potential to drive massive transformation in the industry.

Read more.

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