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Climate Change: Is it now Benign or Catastrophic?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/11/2019 - 10:57am in

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By Keith Antonysen The science of climate change began through Jean Fourier believing that the Earth could not hold warmth without some medium retaining warmth from the sun. We now call what Fourier posited, greenhouse gases. In the 1850s Eunice Foote experimented with gases and found that what we now term carbon dioxide retains warmth.…

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Climate change and the bushfires

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/11/2019 - 8:19am in

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The worst was probably in Victoria in 1851, which burned a quarter of the colony, and killed unknown numbers of people, but also a million sheep, thousands of cattle and innumerable native fauna.

Documentary Tonight on the Works of SF Author Ursula Le Guin

The Beeb are tonight screening a programme ‘The Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin’ at 10.00 pm on BBC 4. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

The American feminist writer, who died in January 2018, was best known for her ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy novels such as A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness, Produced with Le Guin’s participation over the course of a decade, this documentary explores how she defiantly held her ground on the margin of “respectable” literature until the sheer excellence of her work forced the mainstream to embrace fantastic literature. Tyhe film features contributions from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell and Michael Chabon. (p. 65).

The additional piece a few pages earlier by Huw Fullerton on page 63 reads

It’s fair to say that Ursula K Le Guin was a one-off. While plenty of sci-fi and fantasy authors could be described as ahead of their time, there are few to whom this applies as aptly as Le Guin, who was writing piercing, feminist and race-sensitive works as far back as the 1960s and 70s with works such as The Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, elevating her storytelling beyond the literary fringe.

In this new film, luminaries including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon pay tribute to Le Guin’s life and legacy, interweaving with unusual animation to bring her story to (appropriately) fantastical life. 

I read The Dispossessed back in the 1990s, and I can’t say I liked it. It’s about a scientist, Shevek, from a desolate world colonised by Anarchists to its twin planet of Aieio. Shevek has been working on a Faster Than Light communication device, an ansible, a concept found in other SF writers, like James Blish’s Dirac Telephone. Unable to complete it on his world, he defects to its capitalist twin, now undergoing massive worker unrest and an ecological crisis. He becomes a figurehead for the working class radicals, and helps to inspire a revolution. He gives a speech, which is praised by Earth’s woman ambassador. The planet has been left a desert thanks to capitalism’s destruction of the environment. Conditions are consequently very basic, but humanity has been taken to the stars by the Hainish after they discovered Earth. After the revolution’s success, he travels with a member of an alien race, the Hainish, an ancient race of space travelers who have established interstellar contact between themselves, Earth and Aieio and its twin, back to his home world.

Shevek’s anarchist world is a harsh environment with no animal life on its dry lands, although it certainly exists in its seas. The society is based on the ideas of Odo, a female political thinker of a century or so earlier. There is no private property, no prisons and marriage has been abolished. However, couples may live together as partners. Children are brought up in state nurseries away from their parents, who may visit them. The harsh environment and puritanical ideology means that individuality in dress is frowned on as wasteful and extravagant. Everyone basically wears the same costume, although some do make it more individual in the towns and settlements away from the Centre devoted to dyeing. There is no government, but material goods are administered by the Centre, which contains the computer complex used to administer the society.

I didn’t find Le Guin’s anarchist utopia appealing. It’s far too like the totalitarian Communist societies, and particularly Maoism in its uniforms, hostility to religion, marriage and the family. I am also not sure that feminists would like a world where the differences between men and women are so extremely minimised. While women obviously want to be free to enter masculine professions, like science, engineering, construction and so on, there’s still a desire to retain some forms of traditional femininity. This was demonstrated in a piece on the one show about three Air Cadets, who had been voted its top people, and had won a trip to America to see where the latest high performance jet fighters bought by the RAF, were being made. Two of them were young women, and the third a young Black man. It shows that the RAF are trying to recruit a more diverse membership. What I found particularly interesting was that one of these prospective fighter pilots, a woman, outside of the Cadets blogged about makeup. This seemed to me to be the RAF reassuring prospective female recruits that the could still be girly and feminine while piloting an awesome engine of death. I also remember reading an interview with the psychotherapist Suzie Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue in the Financial Times in the 1990s where she said she didn’t want women becoming exactly like men, or men becoming exactly like women.

Also, I found Shevek himself to be a bit of a prig. He was very sanctimonious, pronouncing on the superiority of his planet and its culture at every opportunity. Le Guin recognises that it would have problems, like hoarding, as well as the administrative elite using their authority to suppress music and literature of which they don’t approve, but looking at the problems the Communist societies experienced, it struck me that these problems would be much greater. It also struck me that there would also be a serious problem with crime and criminality, simply because of human – or in this case – humanoid nature – which could not be solved through social engineering alone.

But there is no doubt that she is one of the great SF authors with a very wide following, and I’m sure that this programme will be an excellent examination of her works.

Yaroomba Beach. Dark deeds on the edge of paradise?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/11/2019 - 1:09pm in

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Do you live in a small beach-side community anywhere along the beautiful coastline of Australia? If so, it might advantage you, and your community, to pay very careful attention to a court case that begins this week in the Planning and Environment Court on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. This week The People of Yaroomba Beach and…

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New Paper Reveals Rail Industry Was Leader in Climate Denial Efforts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/11/2019 - 1:55am in

The rail industry has been able to hide behind the skirts of Big Oil in climate denialism.

The Murray-Darling Plan involves a huge waste of water and money

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/11/2019 - 8:37am in

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Back in the 1930's, the construction of these barrages was opposed by many South Australian graziers and fishers.

Climate Change Fueled the Rise and Demise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Superpower of the Ancient World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/11/2019 - 1:55am in

The Neo-Assyrian empire illustrates how fortunes rise and fall with climate.

Decarbonizing steel production

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 3:37pm in

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The global fire crisis has brought home the need for a drastic and rapid reduction in emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. We already have the technology needed to replace nearly all carbon-based electricity generation with renewables, and to use electricity to drive nearly all forms of transport.

Among the more intractable problems are those relating to industrial uses, of which the biggest single example is steel. We can make substantial shifts towards a “circular economy” by recycling scrap in electric arc furnaces, but we still need a carbon-free process for producing new steel from iron ore.

The most promising approach (DRI) involves using hydrogen to directly reduce iron ore to iron, which can then be used as feedstock for an electric arc furnace. An experimental plant has just opened up in Germany.

There is a catch, however. The most common approach to producing hydrogen is currently based on burning lignite, which wipes out any reduction in emissions (in the absence of a mythical sequestration technology), as in this LaTrobe Valley boondoggle.

The alternative, based on electrolysis of water requires, as you might expect, cheap electricity. Fortunately, with a marginal cost of zero, solar and wind can potentially fit the bill, at least if the electrolysis process can be adapted to work when power is cheap. Here’s a source claiming that electrolysis is already cheaper.

At this point, it’s clear that the problem isn’t technology or economics. It’s politicians and voters who would rather destroy the planet than admit they were wrong.

Victoria’s native forestry ban exemplifies the lost perspective of ‘progressive’ politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 11:00am in

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Australia cannot afford to needlessly trash valuable industries at the behest of fashionable causes.

The Fixer: An Insurance Giant Embraces ‘Housing First’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 2:17am in

Welcome back to The Fixer, our weekly briefing of solutions reported elsewhere. This week: one of the biggest companies in America gets on board with “housing first.” Plus, Indigenous communities in the Amazon adopt sustainable farming techniques, and small towns in Minnesota take a hyper-local approach to fighting climate change.

Housing the homeless and making a profit

Recently, we reported on governments embracing “housing first,” a strategy for getting a roof over people’s heads before tackling other issues they struggle with. Now, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that UnitedHealth, America’s largest health insurer, is embracing housing first as a way to increase its profit margins.

This is a big deal. UnitedHealth, a private company, covers six million Medicaid patients, a small percentage of whom are homeless and require frequent, costly hospital visits. For instance, in Camden, New Jersey, just one percent of its Medicaid members incur 30 percent of the group’s health care costs. These high-cost patients are why the company’s Medicaid division has been missing its profit targets. So UnitedHealth decided to get some of those people into stable housing, where they can better care for their health—and save the company money.

Through the program, UnitedHealth is paying for housing in Phoenix, Milwaukee and Las Vegas for homeless Medicaid members whose medical bills exceed $50,000 per year. Since these people were given housing, some of them have seen their medical bills drop by 80 percent. It’s not just the patients who are healthier—so is UnitedHealth’s bottom line: the company’s Medicaid division is back on track to meet its profit targets next year. This is why the insurer has decided to expand the program to 30 markets in 2020. 

The sheer size of UnitedHealth makes the potential for expansion enormous. The company covers 43 million patients and has the sixth-highest revenues of any corporation in the country. Even better, its experiment is proving that housing first can be used to generate private sector profits. In other words, doing the right thing can be good business.

Read more at Bloomberg Businessweek.

Growth that saves the canopy

While logging by big corporations grabs most of the headlines, the Peruvian Amazon’s biggest deforestation threat comes from subsistence farming. The slash-and-burn techniques used by smallholder farmers to let the sunlight reach their crops are the primary reason Peru lost nearly 350,000 acres of rainforest last year.

To fix this, an organization called Cool Earth helps Indigenous farmers develop practices that require less clear-cutting. For instance: “People in remote areas have an obsession with growing yuca,” says Aurora Lume, a member of Cool Earth’s field team. But yuca crops need to be drenched in sun. So Cool Earth brings in technicians to teach farmers to grow coffee instead, which thrives under the shady forest canopy. 

Farmers participating in a Cool Earth project in the Peruvian Amazon. Credit: Cool Earth

Cool Earth doesn’t strong arm farmers into changing their harvests. Instead, it shows them satellite imagery of how much forest their agricultural methods have destroyed. “The people were taken aback by what they saw,” another Cool Earth officer told the Guardian. These satellite maps are then used to plan new, more sustainable crop plantings. “You can’t be too heavy handed, but people have to understand that if they continue to clear at the present rate, in 15-20 years, they will have no forest. Mapping is helping villages to plan how they use land.”

So far, it’s working. In the areas where Cool Earth has engaged with farmers, deforestation has fallen by half. The Peruvian government has gotten on board as well, launching the National Forest Conservation Program, which pays communities that implement sustainable farming systems. “It’s a tried-and-tested strategy in South America,” says Tony Juniper, a Cool Earth ambassador. “It has worked in Brazil, Colombia and Peru. If you look at maps of the forest in those countries, you will see that the areas under Indigenous control are best protected.”

Read more at the Guardian. 

Climate action without debate

There’s a stereotype that rural Americans don’t care about the environment, but the farming community of Morris, Minnesota has found a way to disprove it. In 2014, the town held a three-day “rural climate dialogue” attended by 300 residents. Rather than debate or lecture about the science of climate change, the event “mixed facts and testimonies [from residents] with their personal beliefs, experiences, and emotions,” according to Grist. The dialogues have since become a regular event, in which residents share their own perspectives, while identifying opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and create a more sustainable community.

Sticking to sensible, local solutions keeps the dialogues from becoming polarizing. “You don’t have to sit in a meeting room and argue about whether there’s climate change that’s happening,” said Morris city manager Blaine Hill. “We don’t focus on the words ‘climate’ or ‘environment’ because it’s not necessary, and sometimes it gets in the way of what we’re actually trying to do.”

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#tbt to the Rural Climate State Convening. Rural communicates play a key part in designing climate solutions and building resilience. . . . . #democracy #climatechange #community #civicengagement #civiceducation

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The approach has worked. This year, Morris replaced its 450-watt street lights with LED bulbs, installed electric vehicle charging stations and erected solar arrays around town. And a survey conducted with the University of Minnesota concluded that participants left the dialogues with a deeper understanding of climate change.

The “Morris Model” has since been replicated in other towns in Minnesota—in one case, a statewide Morris-style dialogue was held among multiple far-flung farming communities. In each case, empathy and openness are emphasized over debate or pedagogy. “We are a small, rural town and we’re able to do things here that are going to be renewable and sustainable for the future,” Hill said. “If we can do it, then anyone can do it.”

Read more at Grist.

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