2018/10/15: extreme weather would reduce barley yield by between 3% and 17%. Some countries fared better than others: tropical areas such as Central and South America were hit badly, but crop yields actually increased in certain temperate areas, including northern China and the United States. Some areas of those countries saw yield increases of up to 90% — but this was not enough to offset the global decrease.
Finally, Guan and his colleagues fed these changes in barley yield into an existing economic model that can account for changes in supply and demand in the global market. This enabled them to look at how reduced barley production would affect pricing and consumption of beer in countries, as well as trade between nations.
In the worst-case scenario, the reduced barley supply worldwide would result in a 16% decrease in global beer consumption in the years of extreme-weather events. Prices would, on average, double...
One goal of the research, Guan says, was to make tangible how "climate change will impact people’s lifestyle... (If people) want to drink beer when we watch football, then we have to do something."
2018/10/08: The Paris Agreement notes how it will take a little longer for poorer countries to fully decarbonise, raising the bar still further for the UK, USA and other wealthy nations.
To genuinely reduce emissions in line with 2 C of warming requires a transformation in the productive capacity of society, reminiscent of the Marshall Plan. The labour and resources used to furnish the high-carbon lifestyles of the top 20% will need to shift rapidly to deliver a fully decarbonised energy system.
No more second or very large homes, SUVs, business and first-class flights, or very high levels of consumption. Instead, our economy should be building new zero-energy houses, retrofitting existing homes, huge expansion of public transport, and a 4-fold increase in (zero-carbon) electrification.
Sadly, the IPCC fails, again, to address the profound implications of reducing emissions in line with both 1.5 and 2 C. Dress it up however we may wish, climate change is ultimately a rationing issue.
2018/10/05: Last year, Apple outraged independent technicians when they updated the Iphone design to prevent third party repair, adding a "feature" that allowed handsets to detect when their screens had been swapped (even when they'd been swapped for an original, Apple-manufactured screen) and refuse to function until they got an official Apple unlock code.
Now, this system has come to the MacBook Pros and Imac Pros, thanks to the "T2 security chip" which will render systems nonfunctional after replacing the keyboard, screen, case, or other components, until the a proprietary Apple "configuration tool" is used to unlock the system.
Apple does not tell its customers that the computers it sells are designed to punish them for opting to get their property repaired by independent technicians; the details of the T2 came from a leaked service manual.
“There’s two possible explanations: This is a continued campaign of obsolescence and they want to control the ecosystem and bring all repair into the network they control,” Kyle Wiens, the CEO of iFixit, told me on the phone. “Another is security, but I don’t see a security model that doesn’t trust the owner of the device making much sense.”
2018/01/31: To focus on energy efficiency is to make present ways of life non-negotiable. However, transforming present ways of life is key to mitigating climate change and decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.
Treating energy efficiency as a fuel and measuring its success in terms of “avoided energy” is pretty weird. For one thing, it is about not using a fuel that does not exist.
Why is it that advances in energy efficiency do not result in a reduction of energy demand? Most critics focus on so-called “rebound effects”, which have been described since the nineteenth century. According to the rebound argument, improvements in energy efficiency often encourage greater use of the services which energy helps to provide. For example, the advance of solid state lighting (LED), which is six times more energy efficient than old-fashioned incandescent lighting, has not led to a decrease in energy demand for lighting. Instead, it resulted in six times more light.
For example, LED-screens are more energy efficient than LCD-screens, and could therefore reduce the energy use of televisions. However, they also led to the arrival of digital billboards, which are enormous power hogs in spite of their energy efficient components. Finally, money saved through improvements in energy efficiency can also be spent on other energy-intensive goods and services, which is a possibility usually referred to as an indirect rebound effect.
The problem with energy efficiency policies, then, is that they are very effective in reproducing and stabilising essentially unsustainable concepts of service.  Measuring the energy efficiency of cars and tumble driers, but not of bicycles and clotheslines, makes fast but energy-intensive ways of travel or clothes drying non-negotiable, and marginalises much more sustainable alternatives. According to Shove:
Programmes of energy efficiency are politically uncontroversial precisely because they take current interpretations of ‘service’ for granted… The unreflexive pursuit of efficiency is problematic not because it doesn’t work or because the benefits are absorbed elsewhere, as the rebound effect suggests, but because it does work – via the necessary concept of equivalence of services – to sustain, perhaps escalate, but never undermine… increasingly energy intensive ways of life.
2018/sep/26: There may be more bicycles but there will also be more planes. We’re still in denial about the scale of the threat to the planet.
Beyond a certain point, economic growth – the force that lifted people out of poverty, and cured deprivation, squalor and disease – tips us back into those conditions.
how come oil production, for the first time in history, is about to hit 100m barrels a day? How come the oil industry expects demand to climb until the 2030s? How is it that in Germany, whose energy transition (Energiewende) was supposed to be a model for the world, protesters are being beaten up by police as they try to defend the 12,000-year-old Hambacher forest from an opencast mine extracting lignite – the dirtiest form of coal? Why have investments in Canadian tar sands – the dirtiest source of oil – doubled in a year?
The answer is, growth. There may be more electric vehicles on the world’s roads, but there are also more internal combustion engines. Given that economic growth, in nations that are already rich enough to meet the needs of all, requires an increase in pointless consumption, it is hard to see how it can ever be decoupled from the assault on the living planet.
It doesn’t matter how many good things we do: preventing climate breakdown means ceasing to do bad things.
Electric vehicles have driven a new resource rush, particularly for lithium, that is already polluting rivers and trashing precious wild places. Clean growth is as much of an oxymoron as clean coal.
2018/09/25: DNA, these marketing campaigns imply, reveals something essential about you. And it’s working. Thanks to television-ad blitzes and frequent holiday sales, genetic-ancestry tests have soared in popularity in the past two years. More than 15 million people have now traded their spit for insights into their family history.
If this were simply about wearing kilts or liking Ed Sheeran, these ads could be dismissed as, well, ads. They’re just trying to sell stuff, shrug. But marketing campaigns for genetic-ancestry tests also tap into the idea that DNA is deterministic, that genetic differences are meaningful. They trade in the prestige of genomic science, making DNA out to be far more important in our cultural identities than it is, in order to sell more stuff.
First, the accuracy of these tests is unproven (as detailed here and here). But putting that aside, consider simply what it means to get a surprise result of, say, 15 percent German. If you speak no German, celebrate no German traditions, have never cooked German food, and know no Germans, what connection is there, really? Cultural identity is the sum total of all of these experiences. DNA alone does not supersede it.
Listening to 99 Luftballons or rooting for Germany in the World Cup is fairly trivial as these things go. But this wave of marketing campaigns encourages a way of thinking—that you can pick and choose which fractional parts of genetic identity to highlight when it makes for good cocktail-party conversation.
2018/06/27: We are witnessing a massive transition in Value Creation from the means of production to the means of Market Production and Curation.
Take for example Uber – here the taxi driver is a bare transitionary commodity and interchangeable. The real value creation instrument is Uber which creates, curates the market – this process now extends from Retail – Amazon – to Manufacturing, AliBaba. This reality signals a great transfer of value creation from the relatively distributed means of production to the massively globally centralised & privatised means of market making & marker curation. The implications of this are massive for inequality and scaling of precarious citizenship.
what is being disrupted is not the plumber or craftsmen but the middle classes – the management, administrative and intermediary skills.
Our Governance model is broken, we live in a ‘systemocracy’ – a world of massive inter-dependency yet we are holding on to 19th century versions of governance. This creates the illusion of sovereignty & supremacy – acting as a denial of the complexity we must confront.
2018-09-19: In the study, much of the assumed transformation is achieved by near-universal digitalization. The authors focus on end-use energy services, suggesting that most of these could be delivered far more efficiently using microelectronics. Household and commercial electricity use could be slashed as multiple pieces of equipment are foregone for a smart phone—whose 5 Watt power consumption would substitute for 450 Watts of consumption from cameras, calculators, TVs, game consoles, DVRs, radios, scanners, tablets, stereos, alarm clocks, GPS, weather stations, video cameras, etc. Some of these uses have already been taken over by smart phones. Moreover, the authors assume that household appliances will all be connected to the Internet of Things, to allow for their optimal operation and seamless availability for demand response.
What’s not mentioned in the Grubler scenario is that universal digitalization would require a robust, dependable electricity supply and electronic communications network. This would entail substantial new infrastructure and electricity demand to accommodate data transmission, storage, and processing for nearly every piece of equipment on Earth. It would also require a great deal of copper. And it would all have to work together seamlessly 24/7.
but... industrial uses of energy (especially for high-temperature process like cement making) will be difficult to de-carbonize, and such processes figure into nearly all supply chains. The Grubler scenario excludes aviation and shipping from consideration.
2018/09/12: From crops to cattle, developing and refining living organisms through selective breeding is a 10,000-year-old practice. Industrial fermentation is a well-honed tool for converting biology into foodstuffs or commodity compounds. Major global industries routinely transform biomass into flat-pack furniture, cotton T-shirts, and vanilla flavourings.
However, biodesign fans are today repackaging biodesign, describing it as an ecological remedy, a technological breakthrough, an economic opportunity, and a manufacturing and industrial revolution. For this issue, we question whether biodesign can deliver the accompanying social transformation that those dreams imply, and explore how it might otherwise begin to challenge modern industrial, social, and economic paradigms.
Whether it’s Bolt Threads’ biosilk plastic, other companies’ promises of lab-grown “clean” meat ousting ecologically-damaging factory farming, or the development of less toxic textile-dyeing processes to mitigate the impact of fast fashion, drop-in replacements serve to make us feel better for our polluting lifestyles. However, what remains unresolved is the space in which these alternatives still operate in—the capitalist system that demands continual growth—no matter the costs. The over-consumption that industrial design is predicated upon today is under increasing scrutiny.
By designing with biology, start-ups like Bolt Threads can potentially challenge how consumer products are made, their life cycles, and enhance the performance of materials that could improve product lifespans.
Scaling these technologies to reduce environmental impact, these new bioindustrialists still need to access the same instruments of capital and consumption that inhibit systemic change. Herein lies the uncomfortable paradox: whose role is it to link new industrial processes with systemic economic, social, and political change?
2018-09-08: To produce a gold ring today, up to 30 tonnes of waste is created. This includes toxic waste such as cyanide, mercury, and sulphuric acid, which then finds its way into the world’s oceans, lakes, and rivers. Ten years ago, up to ten times less waste was created because the quality of ore was higher. Today, there is more gold in one tonne of waste electricals than there is in one tonne of ore. We need to be recovering this gold from waste before mining virgin ore.
Author: Maurice Golden MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform.
DRC produces roughly two thirds of the world's cobalt, whose price has soared by 180% in the past three years. On paper, this would mean that DRC is sitting on a gold mine, but the reality is slightly different. On the one hand, experts talk about supply shortage. But even more disturbing is the link between cobalt mining and child labor.
Children like Lukasa, 15, who begins his 12-hour shift at the mine at 5 a.m. every day. He walks for two hours to the mining site, before spending eight hours mining this grayish metal that keeps our phones (and lives) moving. On a good day, he makes $9. Little does he know about the multibillion-dollar scramble underway.
The demand for cobalt has only just begun. Cobalt is also crucial for the global transition to renewables. Each electric car will need over 1,000 times the amount of cobalt a smartphone does.
Companies and NGOs are far from finding a solution that would end child labor without taking away from thousands of families their only source of income. Some argue thatblockchain could be the solution.
I did see many things almost as tragic that no one could miss -- AI being squeezed into almost every conceivable bit of consumer electronics. But none were convincing. If ever there was a solution looking for a problem, it's ramming AI into gadgets to show of a company's machine learning prowess. For the consumer it adds unreliability, cost and complexity, and the annoyance of being prompted.
We used to buy DVDs or video cassettes; now viewers stream movies or TV shows with Netflix. Even the company's disc-mailing service is falling out of favor. Music lovers used to buy compact discs; now Spotify and YouTube are more commonly used to hear our favorite tunes.rnrnThe great American teenage dream used to be to own your own car. That is dwindling in favor of urban living, greater reliance on mass transit, cycling, walking and, of course, ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.rnrnEach of these changes is beneficial, yet I worry that Americans are, slowly but surely, losing their connection to the idea of private ownership. The nation was based on the notion that property ownership gives individuals a stake in the system. It set Americans apart from feudal peasants, taught us how property rights and incentives operate, and was a kind of training for future entrepreneurship. Do we not, as parents, often give our children pets or other valuable possessions to teach them basic lessons of life and stewardship?rnrnWe're hardly at a point where American property has been abolished, but I am still nervous that we are finding ownership to be so inconvenient. The notion of "possessive individualism" is sometimes mocked, but in fact it is a significant source of autonomy and initiative. Perhaps we are becoming more communal and caring in positive ways, but it also seems to be more conformist and to generate fewer empire builders and entrepreneurs.rnrnWhat about your iPhone, that all-essential life device? Surely you own that? Well, sort of. When Apple Inc. decides to change the operating software, sooner or later you have to go along with what they have selected.rnrnrnDoes that sound like something our largely agrarian Founding Fathers might have been happy about? The libertarian political theorist might tell you that arrangement is simply freedom of contract in action. But the more commonsensical, broad libertarian intuitions of the American public encapsulate a more brutish and direct sense that some things we simply own and hold the rights to.rnrnThose are intuitions which are growing increasingly disconnected from reality, and no one knows what lies on the other side of this social experiment.
Rifkin is persuaded that this paradigm is the key to greening and decarbonating our societies: "The IoT infrastructure offers a realistic hope of quickly replacing fossil fuel energies with renewable energies and slowing climate change."rnThe dead-end of consumerismrnrnWhile Rifkin's predictions seem to follow the course of history, Pitron soberly and methodically tempers them: "Digital technology requires considerable amounts of metals: every year, the electronics industry consumes 320 tonnes of gold and 7,500 tonnes of silver; it accounts for 22% of the world's consumption of mercury (some 514 tonnes) and up to 2.5% of lead. The manufacture of computers and mobile phones alone gobbles up 19% of global output of rare metals like palladium and 23% of cobalt production". Yet, "at current rates of production, the recoverable reserves of 15 or so base and rare metals will run out in less than 50 years; for five other metals (including iron, which is abundant), this will occur before the end of the century."rnrnPitron points out that "the manufacture of a two-gram chip creates two kilograms of waste material, in other words a 1 to 1000 ratio of material produced to waste generated."rnrnLike Rifkin, those who see the digital revolution as the key to ecological transition are victims of a collective blindness that is leading humanity into a dead end: "They don't want to know because a connected world is preferable to a clean planet." Indeed, the book pours scorn on an energy transition that does not call into question our energy needs. "The manufacture of a single solar panel, due in large part to its silicon content, generates more than 70 kilograms of CO2. With PV [photovoltaic] capacity estimated to increase by 23% annually in the coming years, solar power will produce an additional 10 gigawatts of electricity a year. This means 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere, equivalent to the annual emissions of 600,000 cars." The examples keep coming. Overall, "sustaining the change in our energy model will require a doubling in rare-metal production roughly every 15 years, and extracting more minerals in the next 30 years than humanity has extracted in the preceding 70 000 years."rnrn legislation will have to change, as will individual and collective behaviour to conserve and recycle the resources currently on our continent.rnrnPitron does not hesitate to raise the question of inequality when it comes to ecological transition. Although the fight against climate change is frequently the subject of public debate, out of ignorance, its potentially redistributive aspects are never discussed. Yet "the energy and digital transition is a transition for the well-off: it cleans up well-to-do city centres to make up for its very real impacts in areas that are poorest and furthest from view." Globally, "hiding away the dubious origin of metals in China has enabled green and digital technologies to enjoy a good reputation. It's undoubtedly the most incredible greenwashing operation in history."rnrnIn short, and this is pretty discouraging, Pitron's work corroborates the results of models created almost 50 years ago. But these were widely ignored when new models were devised which are still used today by economists and governments to justify the productivist and consumerist policies on which our development model is based.
As promising as 3D printers seem, their usefulness is still questionable. High costs, safety concerns, patents, and design complexity are all contributing to legitimate skepticism.
2018/03/26: the more we grow, the more we eat away at the web of life on which we all depend.
We have known about this problem for decades now, but we've been told not to worry: As technology improves and becomes more efficient, we'll be able to keep growing the economy while nonetheless reducing our impact on the natural world. The technical term for this is "green growth," which requires absolute decoupling of GDP from material use. According to the theory, we can speed this process along by incentivizing innovation; if we tax carbon emissions and material extraction, we can spur companies to invest in more efficient tech.
Here's the magic number: 50 billion tons. That's how much of the Earth's materials and life forms we can safely use each year. That includes everything from wood to plastic, fish to livestock, minerals to metals: all the physical stuff that we consume. Right now, we're using about 80 billion tons each year-way over the limit. So for growth to be green, we need to somehow get back down to 50 billion tons despite expanding the GDP.
When green growth theory was first proposed, there was no evidence on whether it would actually work-it was purely speculative. But over the past few years, three major studies have set out to examine this question. All have arrived at the same rather troubling conclusion: Even under best-case scenario conditions, absolute decoupling of GDP growth from material use is not possible on a global scale.
Why the bad news? The main reason is that tech innovation just doesn't work the way most of us assume. We know that Moore's law says that chip performance doubles about every two years-but this doesn't apply to material use. There are physical limits to material efficiency, and once we start to reach them then the scale effect of growth drives material use back up in the long run. For instance you might be able to produce a wooden table more efficiently, but you can't produce a table out of nothing. In the end you'll need a minimum amount of wood, and once you reach that limit, then any growth in table production is going to come along with a corresponding growth in wood use.
It would be hard to overstate the impact of these results. Right now, our only plan for dealing with the ecological emergency that's staring us in the face is to hope that tech innovation and green growth will mitigate the coming disaster. Yes, we're going to need all the wizardry we can get-but that alone is not going to be enough. The only real option is in fact much simpler and more obvious: We need to start consuming less.
New York's top cocktail bars are facing something of a crisis. A fashionable global protest movement has nightlife venues scrambling to replace their plastic straws with more sustainable alternatives, such as paper ones, on the theory that doing so will reduce plastic waste in the oceans. It all sound virtuous -- but in reality, it's likely to make matters worse. Straws make up a trifling percentage of the world's plastic products, and campaigns to eliminate them will not only be ineffective, but could distract from far more useful efforts.rnrnThe anti-straw movement took off in 2015, after a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral. Campaigns soon followed, with activists often citing studies of the growing ocean plastics problem. Intense media interest in the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch -- a floating, France-sized gyre of oceanic plastic -- only heightened the concern.rnrnBut this well-intentioned campaign assumes that single-use plastics, such as straws and coffee stirrers, have much to do with ocean pollution. And that assumption is based on some highly dubious data. Activists and news media often claim that Americans use 500 million plastic straws per day, for example, which sounds awful. But the source of this figure turns out to be a survey conducted by a nine-year-old. Similarly, two Australian scientists estimate that there are up to 8.3 billion plastic straws scattered on global coastlines. Yet even if all those straws were suddenly washed into the sea, they'd account for about .03 percent of the 8 million metric tons of plastics estimated to enter the oceans in a given year.rnrnIn other words, skipping a plastic straw in your next Bahama Mama may feel conscientious, but it won't make a dent in the garbage patch. So what will?rnrnA recent survey by scientists affiliated with Ocean Cleanup, a group developing technologies to reduce ocean plastic, offers one answer. Using surface samples and aerial surveys, the group determined that at least 46 percent of the plastic in the garbage patch by weight comes from a single product: fishing nets. Other fishing gear makes up a good chunk of the rest.rnrnThe impact of this junk goes well beyond pollution. Ghost gear, as it's sometimes called, goes on fishing long after it's been abandoned, to the great detriment of marine habitats. In 2013, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science estimated that lost and abandoned crab pots take in 1.25 million blue crabs each year.rnrnThis is a complicated problem. But since the early 1990s, there's been widespread agreement on at least one solution: a system to mark commercial fishing gear, so that the person or company that bought it can be held accountable when it's abandoned. Combined with better onshore facilities to dispose of such gear -- ideally by recycling -- and penalties for dumping at sea, such a system could go a long way toward reducing marine waste. Countries belonging to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization have even agreed on guidelines for the process.rnrnBut while rich countries should be able to meet such standards with ease, in the developing world -- where waste management is largely informal -- the problem is much harder. In Indonesia, for example, one study concluded that fishermen have little incentive to bring someone else's net to a disposal point unless they're getting paid to do so.rnrnThat's where all that anti-straw energy could really help. In 1990, after years of consumer pressure, the world's three largest tuna companies agreed to stop intentionally netting dolphins. Soon after, they introduced a "dolphin safe" certification label and tuna-related dolphin deaths declined precipitously. A similar campaign to pressure global seafood companies to adopt gear-marking practices -- and to help developing regions pay for them -- could have an even more profound impact. Energized consumers and activists in rich countries could play a crucial role in such a movement.rnrnThat's a harder sell than trendy anti-straw activism, of course. But unlike those newly virtuous night clubs, it might actually accomplish something useful.
Customers say they want brands to be more environmentally conscious - but eco-friendly marketing campaigns fall flat.
2018/05/39: And you all knew this SIXTY YEARS AGO, as this picture proves beyond any reasonable doubt.