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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

We reopen our blog posts today by taking AskMen.com‘s advice on the 10 Top TED Talks. We’ve featured TED Talks here before and this Top 10 list is fresh and very insightful material.

From AskMen.com:

The Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conferences aim to help foster a better future by mining the ideas of “the world’s smartest thinkers, greatest visionaries and most-inspiring teachers.” Past TED talks have been given by Gordon Brown, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other preeminent figures in their fields. Since 2007, hundreds of talks have been available online in their entirety on subjects ranging from matters of dire global importance to lighthearted comedy.

Described in The New York Times Magazine as a series of “head-rush disquisitions” from “violinists, political prisoners, brain scientists, novelists, and Bill Clinton,” the event isn’t at all limited in its scope, as long as the final product is interesting. The talks to follow are all in some way about men’s issues, though they range from perilous adventure to reflective poetry.

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On the Huffington Post: oil plumes under the Gulf of Mexico. Apt study in light of the oil spill mess in the news.

“Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld”

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The BP oil spill bill:

BP said the disaster, now into its tenth week, had already cost it $2bn. As of last night, the British company had paid out only $104m to claimants. In all, 64,000 demands have been submitted so far, totalling $600m. That pace will, however, only accelerate as oil continues to spew from the broken well-head, contaminating an ever-wider area of the Gulf.

From the looks of things BP will probably not have any trouble funding it:

BP is eyeing relatively modest new bank lending lines and is not planning bond sales or new increases in asset sales to fund its Gulf of Mexico oil spill clean-up, sources familiar with the company’s thinking said on Monday.

BP has considered a number of different scenarios to raise additional cash, should the need arise, such as additional asset sales and a potential bond offering.

And furthermore it also seems that even if BP were to declare bankruptcy, creditors wouldn’t mind.

There are no bank-style bailouts here, but structurally seems to be no deterrents either. Moral hazard just the same.

“Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld”

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Just checking in on the happenings since its been roughly a couple of months since the now infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill from the BP oil rig.

As reported by Reuters, in New Orleans, while tourism ads are getting pulled for sensitivity to BP, oil firms are lobbying to overturn Obama’s 6-month ban on deepwater drilling, which was in reaction to the spill. On the Huffington Post, beach weddings are taking a dive in Florida.

Meanwhile, as you consider the total effect of the spill–social, economic and environmental–you might want to check out If It Was My Home, which apart from social activism features an interesting Google map of the oil spill which you can overlay on your own home to appreciate the scale. (Thanks to Freakonomics).

“Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld”

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Space.com News Forecast

 

How this translates in terms of billions of whatever your currency, we can only guess.  So far news from Space.com foresees only the nasty from this sunny phase, reminding us of our mere mortal existence.  The possible economic damages are too much for man’s imagination at the moment.  Back in 1998, a sun storm confounded technology, affecting flights and hospital communication.  This flashback of a sun storm can give us an idea of what is to come:

 

 

And what about the pole shift?  It happens once every 25,800 years, and this is said to take us for a spin in 2012.  Scientific theories aren’t much to pacify anybody, and it is seen as all happening radically within a short period of time. 

 

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What with all these earthquakes and tsunamis occuring with more sensational rapidity in the news, a recent a scientific study concluded that it was definitely an asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period.

A panel of 41 scientists from across the world reviewed 20 years’ worth of research to try to confirm the cause of the so-called Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) extinction, which created a “hellish environment” around 65 million years ago and wiped out more than half of all species on the planet.

Scientific opinion was split over whether the extinction was caused by an asteroid or by volcanic activity in the Deccan Traps in what is now India, where there were a series of super volcanic eruptions that lasted around 1.5 million years.

The new study, conducted by scientists from Europe, the United States, Mexico, Canada and Japan and published in the journal Science, found that a 15-kilometre (9 miles) wide asteroid slamming into Earth at Chicxulub in what is now Mexico was the culprit.

The rest of the article is here.

I found a similar description (and the image above) from 6 year old, Brian Lean’s blog (well he’s probably eight by now).  

Anyway, going back to tsunamis, I encountered a couple of years back a threat assessment of tsunamis and asteroid impacts, which occur about once every 6,000 years on average. Based on that 2006 article, at least 50 million people are at risk in such an event–which is roughly the number of lives who live along coastal areas.

Gulf of Mexico: impact area of asteroid which caused dinosaur extinction.

In the image above, should a similar asteroid impact the same spot in Mexico, the colors illustrate the radial tsunamis that such an impact would generate.

Just food for thought these days.

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If you’ve seen Avatar, I guess you have also heard of the Vatican’s comment.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/12/vatican-slams-avatar-prom_n_419949.html

The Vatican newspaper and radio station are criticizing James Cameron’s 3-D blockbuster for flirting with the idea that worship of nature can replace religion – a notion the pope has warned against. They call the movie a simplistic and sappy tale, despite its awe-inspiring special effects.

In the same webpage it continues:

Most significantly, much of the Vatican criticism was directed at the movie’s central theme of man vs. nature.

L’Osservatore said the film “gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature.” Similarly, Vatican Radio said it “cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium.”

“Nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship,” the radio said.

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Popular magician David Blaine expounds on his personal journey towards breaking the world record for holding one’s breath.

It’s a humourous but inspiring take on the notion of impossibility, and how preparation, determination and focus can definitely lead to results.

On a related note, Ueli Gegenschatz expounds on his extreme sports of base jumping, skydiving, and wingsuit flying and how this brings him ever closer to the ultimate dream of man: to fly.

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Peter Joseph, author of the controversial Zeitgeist films, has recently released an orientation documentary containing the principles, concepts, and tenets that characterize the activist movement he has started. The Zeitgeist Movement is the activist arm of The Venus Project of Jacque Fresco which promotes a resource based economy as an alternative to the monetary system in use today.

The video is 1.5 hours in length and a brief list of the concepts introduced in the video are as follows (also taken from the orientation guide in the Zeitgeist Movement website):

Part 1: Monetary Economics

The video demonstrates the concepts behind the current use of a monetary system and its flaws, mainly the use of cyclical consumption, scarcity, and the profit motive which results in a distortion of values and rampant crime. This section ends with the growing trend towards automation and outsourcing which ultimately undermines the reliance of a monetary economy on consumption.

Part 2: What is Relevant?

The video then elucidates the benefits of the scientific method and the concept of dynamic equilibrium. Then it furthers the general means to achieve the solutions to the current societal problems.

Part 3: A Resource-Based Economy

This part describes in detail the concepts behind a resource-based economy as championed by the Venus Project.

Part 4: Overcoming Mythology

The video then challenges the current misconceptions in place in society today that have held it back from development, namely the concept of human nature, legal systems, and religion.

Part 5: Taking Action

Finally the video is a call to action to join their movement and concrete steps to undertake.

*~*~*

The video is a lucid and thought-provoking thesis of society’s problems and a possible solution. Zeitgeist touches on some ideas we have put forth here in the past–especially regarding the financial system. Like all calls for panaceas, we will tackle Zeitgeist’s concepts critically in posts to come.

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 Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, gives an interesting talk in TED regarding the reasons why societies collapse. In this talk he describes the story of the Norse society in Greenland which went extinct. He describes a 5 point framework he uses to examine the collapse of human societies:

  • Human Impact On The Environment
  • Climate Change
  • Relationships With Neighboring Friendly Societies
  • Relationships With Hostile Societies
  • Political/Economic/Cultural/Social Factors

One of Professor Diamond’s controversial statements in the talk relates to the tendency for societies to collapse in a rapid fashion:

7:47 One interesting common thread has to do with, in many cases, the rapidity of collapse after a society has reached its peak. There are many societies that don’t wind down gradually but they build up, get rich and more powerful, and then within a short time within a few decades after they have peaked, they collapse.

Professor Diamond’s talk is a timely one especially in light of the economic crisis gripping the globe now and the troubles hitting First World societies in the United States and Europe.

An ecologist, evolutionary biologist and professor of geography and physiology at UCLA, Diamond takes an approach that goes beyond culture and into the impact it has on the environment. As Malcolm Gladwell observes, “Diamond’s distinction between social and biological survival is a critical one, because too often we blur the two.” Diamond’s ability to tackle daunting questions (and pose unsettling answers) in a straightforward voice may be reason enough to share his optimism that recognizing a problem paves the way for solving it.

Going back to his talk, at one point Professor Diamond makes an excellent point about the relationship of values and the consequent collapse of society:

13:37 The other generalization that I want to mention is that it’s particularly hard for a society to make ‘good decisions’ when there is a conflict involving strongly held values that are held good in many circumstances, but are poor in other circumstances.

For example, the Greenland Norse in this difficult environment were held together by for four and half centuries by their sheer commitment to religion and by their strong social cohesion. But those two things: commitment to religion and strong social cohesion also made it difficult for them to change at the end.

Although religion continues its influence in the present time, the best analog to the Norse situation in the present societies in the U.S. and Europe is the strongly held but conflicting beliefs relating to Capitalism and Free Markets–undeniably the locus of today’s crisis. Whether governments should be more active or less active in market dynamics is the strongly debated belief. Understanding this belief in the context of Diamond’s framework might be helpful in seeing a solution to the societal collapse being predicted (as we featured recently by Schiff, Rogers, and co.).

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