Home » Posts tagged with » Slowing Down
When people think of the world’s “population problem,” they often focus on rapid demographic growth in parts of the developing world. But, globally, the population-growth rate is actually falling, and population is expected to plateau later this century. Though we cannot afford to ignore the fact that, according to United Nations estimates, there will be 2.4 billion more mouths to feed worldwide by mid-century, another population problem also merits serious attention: large pockets of demographic decline.
The four founders of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, cosmologist Martin Rees, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, economic theorist Sir Partha Desgupta and philosopher Huw Price, are in the business of “horizon scanning” – identifying low-probability-but-high-consequence events – and are concerned mainly with risks we have created ourselves – the consequences of being too clever for our own good. One prominent risk is that artificial intelligence (AI) will outcompete our own for predominance, ultimately allowing AI to relate to humans much as humans currently do to chimpanzees. There is also the risk of the deliberate or accidental release of a virus with a modified genome, the adoption of stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering, and the use of 3-D printers to create military-grade weapons.
Important information relating to economics, health and other things can be extracted from big data given the right tools. But exactly how this should be done accurately and reliably is still the subject of significant debate. Government agencies, companies and almost anyone willing to play with the numbers will be able to extract significant value from search query data in future. But considerable care is needed. Many an economic hangover has been caused by over-indulgence in unreliable data.
A few months ago, the international food manufacturing giant General Mills was branded a “clear laggard” by climate activists for not doing enough to cut its carbon footprint. Today, Oxfam International is claiming big victory: General Mills has released a new set of climate policies that Oxfam says makes it “the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term science-based targets to cut emissions.”
Around the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade. For bees and the plants they pollinate this is a catastrophe. But in the midst of crisis can come learning. Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.
The Obama administration’s embrace of targeted killings using armed drones risks putting the United States on a “slippery slope” into perpetual war and sets a dangerous precedent for lethal operations that other countries might adopt in the future, according to a report by a bipartisan panel that includes several former senior intelligence and military officials.
Piketty is right that our political economy favors the growth of inequality, and that inequality in turn poisons our politics. But while we should aspire to create a society that shares its prosperity, we need to address a much bigger gap than the one between rich and poor. We need to address the gap between what’s demanded by our planet and what’s demanded by our economy.
President Obama on Tuesday will announce his intent to make a broad swath of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities. The proposal, slated to go into effect later this year after a comment period, could create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected. The announcement is part of a broader push on maritime issues by an administration that has generally favored other environmental priorities. On Capitol Hill, some Republicans have sought to limit the administration’s ability to influence offshore activities, viewing it as another attempt by the president to test the limits of White House power.
A number of recent books have lauded the connection between walking – just for its own sake – and thinking. Wordsworth was a walker. Charles Dickens was a walker. Henry David Thoreau walked and walked and walked. But are people losing their love of the purposeless walk? This is the era of the “smartphone map zombie” – people who only take occasional glances away from an electronic routefinder to avoid stepping in anything or being hit by a car. But you don’t have to be an author to see the value of walking. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking.
Since the financial crisis, central banks have slashed interest rates, purchased vast quantities of sovereign bonds and bailed out banks. Now, though, their influence appears to be on the wane with measures producing paltry results. Do they still have control? Governments must exert tighter control over banks and financial institutions, but monetary policy experts also have a role to play. They shouldn’t just focus on the economy, but also pay attention to the financial cycle.
Hundreds of millions of pounds may have been wasted on a drug for flu that works no better than paracetamol, a landmark analysis has said. The Cochrane Collaboration claimed the drug did not prevent the spread of flu or reduce dangerous complications, and only slightly helped symptoms. The report is the result of a colossal fight for the previously hidden data into the effectiveness and side-effects of Tamiflu.
Factory farming has devastating consequences to animals, human health, and the socio-economic wellbeing of rural America. It’s easy to criticize the current model of industrial agriculture, far harder to outline a viable alternative. A starting point is to recognize bluntly that our industrial food system is unhealthy.
When customers speak, businesses listen. It’s an old adage in business that Oxfam and its supporters tested to see if this would be true on issues of sustainability and human rights. First we asked the 3 biggest chocolate companies, Mars, Mondelez and Nestle to address the inequality and injustices that women cocoa farmers and workers faced in their cocoa supply chains.
Yale Project on Climate Change Communication presents their report on Americans’ Actions to Limit Global Warming. The report provides insight into public interest as regards governmental process and political action, and business activities and consumer action. It also sheds light on efforts to achieve greater domestic energy efficiency.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend three million dollars to help farmers and ranchers improve pastures in five Midwestern states to provide food for the nation’s struggling honeybees. Agricultural production has been threatened by a more than decade-long decline in commercial honeybees and their wild cousins due to habitat loss and pesticide use.
As fellow tech giants have reached billion-dollar deals in recent years to add significant new arms to their businesses, Apple has ventured down a different path. The company has avoided jaw-dropping takeovers in favor of a series of smaller deals, using the companies to buttress or fill a gap in products that already exist or are in development.
Putting aside GMOs for the moment, how many of the groceries sold at Walmart would never be stocked on Whole Foods shelves? The 78 ingredients on their blacklist end up comprising over 54% of all the foods sold in Walmart stores. What’s more, approximately 97% of the soft drinks/soda sold at Walmart contain ingredients that Whole Foods considers “unacceptable.”
Climate change may be the world’s “most fearsome” weapon of mass destruction, and urgent global action is needed to combat it, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday, comparing those who deny its existence or question its causes to people who insist the earth is flat.
American presidential election campaigns are absurd. Absurdly expensive. Absurdly long. Absurdly structured. And absurdly narrow in the range of ideas and options offered to a nation with an absurdly low level of voter participation. If ever there was a time to rethink how this country chooses its chief executive, this is it.
You don’t really read the endless pages of terms and conditions connected to every website you visit or phone call that you make, but every day billion-dollar corporations are learning more about your interests, friends, family, finances and secrets precisely because of this, are selling the information to the highest bidder, and you agreed to all of it.
Climate change exists on a time scale not congenial either to media time or to the individual lifetimes of our short-lived species. If the end of the world doesn’t fit well with “the news,” neither does denial. The idea of a futureless humanity is difficult to take in and that has undoubtedly played a role in suppressing the newsiness of climate change.
At the dawn of a new year, the world is in the midst of several epic transitions. Economic growth patterns, the geopolitical landscape, the social contract that binds people together, and our planet’s ecosystem are all undergoing radical, simultaneous transformations, generating anxiety and, in many places, turmoil.
The Obama administration has portrayed the NSA’s bulk collection program as useful and lawful but an independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down. The program “lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value,” the report said. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.”
It has now been 100 years since the outbreak of World War I, but the European catastrophe remains relevant today. As the Continent looks back this year, old wounds could once again be rubbed raw. More than 60 million soldiers from five continents participated in that orgy of violence. The absolute focus on national interests did not lead to happy times for any of the wartime enemies. In the era of NATO and integrated armed forces, hardly anyone can imagine a war between Europeans. Still, it is possible to sow discord in other ways in the 21st century. Historians of different stripes note with concern that the course of events in 1914 are not that different from what is happening in Europe today.
We are already engaged in a planet-wide experiment with consequences we can already tell are unpleasant for the future of humanity. So the hubris involved in thinking we can come up with a second planet-wide experiment that would exactly counteract the first experiment is delusional in the extreme.
Unless something goes unexpectedly wrong in 2014, the level of real per capita GDP in the United States will match and exceed its 2007 level. That is not good news. US output is now seven years – 14% – below the level that was reasonably expected back in 2007. If we combine the costs of idle workers and capital during the downturn and the harm done to the US economy’s future growth path, the losses reach 3.5-10 years of total output. That is a higher share of America’s productive capabilities than the Great Depression subtracted.
Private sector companies like Google run hi-tech spying operations that vacuum up private information and use it to compile detailed dossiers on hundreds of millions of people around the world — and that’s on top of their work colluding and contracting with government intelligence agencies. Silicon Valley runs on for-profit surveillance that dwarfs anything being run by the NSA.
Easter Island has been thought of as a clear example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources. Two anthropologists now think that may not be what happened, but their alternative view is hardly consoling. On Easter Island, people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more. Maybe that will happen to us. A future in which we continuously degrade our planet, losing plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, cannot be called “success.” To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed – that’s when we’ll act – but the new Easter Island story suggests that humans may never hit the alarm. There’s a lesson here and it’s not a happy one.
The same kinds of politics that influence other aspects of society also help explain why some countries, such as the United States, suffer repeated banking crises, while others, such as Canada, avoid them altogether. A country does not choose its banking system; it gets the banking system it deserves, one consistent with the institutions that govern its distribution of political power.
One of the reasons American hypocrisy is so effective is that it stems from sincerity: most U.S. politicians do not recognize just how two-faced their country is. Yet as the United States finds itself less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words, it will face increasingly difficult choices — and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.
Dozens of psychological studies have shown that people primed to think about money before an experiment are more likely to lie, cheat and steal during the course of that experiment. Thinking about time, by contrast, makes people more honest than normal rather than less so and the more reflective they are the more honest they become.
Germany slaughters 58 million pigs a year and has built an efficient meat industry second only to the US in pork exports. Its optimized breeding, feeding and killing system churns out wondrously cheap cutlets — but at a hidden cost to the environment and our health.
EPA does not have a reliable system, such as an automated data system, to track key information related to conditional registrations of pesticides, including whether companies have submitted additional data within required time frames. As a result, pesticides with conditional registrations could be marketed for years without EPA’s receipt and review of these data.
A group of scientists led by Dutch conservation expert Frans Schepers has launched a unique experiment centered on the return of the large grazing animals and predators that populated the Continent long ago. The scientists expect the greatest possible diversity of species to develop around the spectacular mammals, including insects, vultures, toads and snakes — all the kinds of animals that were once forced out of their habitats by human activity.
Novelist John Lancaster, given access to the Snowden Files, discusses his impressions. At a moment of austerity and with a general sense that our state’s ability to guarantee prosperity for its citizens is in retreat, that same state is about to make the biggest advance ever in its security powers. Our spies and security services can, for the first time, monitor everything about us, and they can do so with a few clicks of a mouse and – to placate the lawyers – a drop-down menu of justifications. Looking at the GCHQ papers, it is clear that there is an ambition to get access to everything digital. And yet nobody, at least in Britain, seems to care. Snowden’s revelations are not just interesting or important but vital, because the state is about to get powers that no state has ever had, and we need to have a public debate about those powers and what their limits are to be.
Climate change caused by global warming is, arguably, a serious, even existential, threat to the world order and to the welfare of humanity. But over the last five or six years, public discourse has been driven less by policy needs and more by punditry.
The pause in global warming is consistent with numerous prior pauses. When walking up stairs in a tall building, it is a mistake to interpret a landing as the end of the climb. The slow rate of warming of the recent past is consistent with the kind of variability that some of us predicted nearly a decade ago.
There is a never-ending supply of business gurus telling us how we can, and must, do more. Yet the biggest problem in the business world is not too little but altogether too much busy-ness. All this “leaning in” is producing an epidemic of overwork, and has been producing negative returns for some time now. It is time to try the far more radical strategy of leaning back.
A small but – anecdotally – growing group of Americans are leaving the structure and security of an office job for the gruelling, yet rewarding work of earning money from the land. Some want to be a part of improving the food supply for themselves and their community; others are excited by the prospect of becoming self-sufficient, or simply working outdoors like their ancestors did.
Lorenzo Fioramonti is a political scientist and specialist on governance issues who teaches at the University of Pretoria, where he directs the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation. GDP was developed in the late 1930s in the US to help governments tackle the Great Depression, and afterwards it was used to plan America’s involvement in the Second World War. GDP is a measure of economic output. It is a market measure. What does not have a price tag is not included in GDP. This leads to the exclusion of important elements of economic performance. It neglects, for instance, the depletion of natural resources used for economic growth, as these are provided free of charge by nature. Nor does it consider the costs associated with economic growth, which include social risks, environmental degradation and the like. What matters is not statistical efficiency but social relevance. We should measure what we want rather than wanting what we measure.
Mander draws attention to capitalism’s obsessive need to dominate and undermine democracy, as well as to diminish social and economic equity. Designed to operate free of morality, the system promotes permanent war as a key economic strategy. Worst of all, the problems of capitalism are intrinsic to the form.
Capitalism rests on a foundation of myths. First, capitalism somehow “invented” entrepreneurship; second, capitalism provides the only “market” economy; third, only capitalism is compatible with “self-reliance” and individual responsibility; fourth, capitalism is the model of “efficiency,” when in truth it generates enormous waste of all kinds; finally, there Is No Alternative. All of this is nonsense. The economy of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy and its largest city, Bologna, is living proof.
Tim Jackson currently serves as the economics commissioner on the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission and is director of RESOLVE, an inter-disciplinary collaboration aiming to develop an understanding of the links between lifestyle, societal values and the environment.
Biologist Edward O. Wilson is University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, and author of the books: The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth; The Future of Life; and The Diversity of Life, which describes how man is in the process of causing the “sixth extinction”.
Daniel Kahneman is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus, and Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus, at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, and author of the book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”.