Digest: 26 August 2014




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In The 1,300 Bird Species Facing Extinction Signal Threats to Human Health, Alanna Mitchell (for National Geographic) discusses the plight of birds as a result of manmade chemicals in their environment, and points out that we do well to pay attention. Advances in biochemistry have allowed scientists to better understand the effects of toxic substances. Since the 1970s we have been aware that chemicals can have a devastating effect on bird health and studies have shown that the same chemicals may be altering human hormones. Some of the most egregious substances were banned, but new chemicals seem to be having a similar effect on eagles in the Baltic Sea, and reproductive and behavioral problems in laboratory kestrels. Humans should pay attention, the same may be happening to us.


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In Brave New Recycling Economy: Movement Turns Trash to Treasure, Michaela Schiessl (for Der Spiegel) discusses Michael Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle movement. Cradle to cradle is an effort to avoid the need to lessen the consumption of products by creating products that are fully recyclable as compost or as unpolluted raw material. His clients include some of the world’s most prominent companies in a range of industries. Schiessl describes the development of cradle to cradle, criticisms of it, and its implementation in projects in several European countries.

In Don’t Fear Growth – It’s No Longer the Enemy of the Planet, Chris Huhne (for The Guardian) discusses how some of the costs associated with economic growth since the 18th century will not necessarily apply to current economic growth. Technology allows us to use less energy to grow richer, Huhne argues – while real growth has occurred in the UK since the 1970s, for example, the amount of energy used has decreased. This trend is evident in developing countries as well. This is good news, it shows that energy saving is possible while still enjoying an increase in living standards.


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In Tons of Emissions from Power Plants Are Already Locked In, Study Says, Joe Eaton (for National Geographic) discusses a recent paper that calculates for the first time the future emissions of power plants globally over multiple years. UN accounting methods fail to take these emissions into account and so underestimate the carbon footprint of power plants over time. While the emissions of power plants may potentially be decreased in the future, Eaton argues it can be assumed that, as a result of the large scale of investment involved, the plants will be used to the extent of their lifespan – usually forty or fifty years.


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In Germany’s Renewed Hegemony Isn’t Something Europe Needs to Fear, John Lloyd (for Reuters) discusses the perhaps unlikely role that Angela Merkel is in – she is the de facto leader of Europe. Lloyd considers Merkel’s role in negotiating European diplomacy, and Germany’s current prominence in light of the two world wars. He argues that people needn’t fear Germany’s rise, that its past has been excised, its institutions are strong, and essentially that Europe is lucky to have such an impressive stateswoman carrying the continent’s burdens.

In America in Decay: The Sources of Political Dysfunction, Francis Fukuyama (for Foreign Affairs) discusses how the significant increase in the US government over the last century masks a decay in its quality. It has returned, he argues, to a 19th century “state of courts and parties” after developing into an efficient centralized administration from the late-19th to the mid-20th centuries.  The result is increased distrust in government, which feeds on itself. To reverse the decay will require an external shock sufficient to catalyze a reform coalition of politicians without a stake in the current system.


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In The Science Behind ISIS Savagery, Ian Robertson (for The Telegraph) discusses the origins of savagery. Robertson argues that as savage acts have been perpetrated by all sorts of groups, they can not be ascribed to any particular religion or ideology. Rather they are the result of circumstances that allow for them to take place. Robertson considers five major factors that increase the risk of savage acts: savagery begets savagery, the individual’s submission to the group, the objectification of outsiders by members of the group, the propensity for revenge to magnify aggression, and the consent or encouragement of leaders.

In The Trouble with Universal Education, Bjorn Lomborg (for Project Syndicate) discusses how the UN needs to consider how it can do the most good for the world’s poor with the limited resources it has. Lomborg argues that in light of competing issues such as health care and potable water, resources must be employed carefully – he discusses a recent paper that focuses on developing preschool programs – it is these programs that provide the most long-term benefit. But additionally it may mean giving up the idea of establishing education for every primary-school aged child in Africa.