Monthly Archives: May 2016

Humanity in crisis.

I was interested to learn this week that the first World Humanitarian Summit was held. That this is the first time that such a thing has occurred is incredible to me, but it also shows how far we have fallen. This summit is being sponsored by the United Nations and yet most of the world leaders will be absent, as if this issue was not important. But it is.

Conflicts around the world now last longer than before and as a result refugees stay that way much longer, creating a crisis situation. At the same time basic laws protecting such refugees are being flouted by so-called liberal democracies. Europe is now offering financial incentives to Turkey to keep asylum seekers at bay.

Laws of war that were respected in the past are not today, with the result that some countries feel free to bomb hospitals and rape women as if such a thing was always the norm. We are descending into barbarism at an increasing rate.

Money is always a problem in resolving such issues. Despite the fact that the world spends $25 billion dollars it really should need $15 billion dollars more. It is much more than money that is a problem, it is also who spends it. Right now it is non-governmental organizations that get the money and they in turn sub-contract to local organizations. Local groups should probably get the money upfront as they would know where the best areas to spend the money are. Right now only 1% get the money upfront.

We have, according to John Ging, director of filed operations for the United Nations, a deficit of humanity. Despite the fact that some have expressed misgivings about such a summit at least the problems are now out in the open and not brushed aside. Shining a light on how inhuman some can be perhaps can awaken the conscience of those same individuals. In the long run it cannot hurt more than staying silent.

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New from Japan!

I was amazed when I read this piece in the New York Times of last week; it seems that floating solar panels is becoming all the rage now. It seems that there are several reasons for this. One certainly is that it is not an eyesore like solar panels. These panels are simply put over a body of water and float there, generating electricity in the process.

Furthermore, as land is more scarce and costs more, it is cheaper to do this on water. As well, there are less regulations tied to that industry. These panels could be easily put on a reservoir, exactly as what is done in Japan presently.

Another advantage of these floating solar panels is that they slow down evaporation as well as being more efficient as the water cools down the solar panels. They can also face stiffer winds than the land-based arrays.

But by far the main problem the development of this new way of using solar panels is convincing governments and water agencies that this floating technology will serve their interests as well as commercial interests.

I for one would see less problems in these floating solar panels than the upright variety. To have clean energy and preserve the landscape from rows upon rows of solar panels is a great idea whose time has come.

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Are famines a thing of the past?

In a recent article in the New York Times an author was discussing the paradox of drought and less food availability in an African country and yet the people there were not starving to death. In other words, even in dire circumstances there was no famine and he wondered why.

According to the author, it was better railroads in the country and newly imported trucks that made the difference. Even water was trucked to places that had none. In short, nothing like the recent past.

The author’s point was that famines are often political tools used by politicians to repress the people. In that African country which the author returned years later to investigate the results were clear; given roads free from checkpoints and markets held at night to reduce the chances of being bombed the local economy worked efficiently. There were no famines when there was no fighting.

The author is not shy in making the point that once a country passes a certain level of prosperity and has a responsible government that can be held accountable for its actions the threats of famine recedes. He pointed out that there were no famines in democratic countries.

He ends his article by showing that 90% of people who died of starvation between 1870 and 1980 died as a result of imperial conquests, great wars or repression under oppressive regimes. With less major conflicts and more democratic countries, the threat of famines has receded.

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The sick man of Europe.

With a 20% unemployment rate Spain is rightly considered to be the sick man of Europe. Even Italy and Portugal do better at 11 and 12 percent. This high level in Spain is not new as it has hovered around that mark for over 5 years. Of course, some in Spain say that 20 percent is good news as it was as high as 25 percent two years ago. The fact that it has fallen is some good news, but not much.

True, it is more than probable that some of these people that are not working are in fact working but not being declared. Still, it is not an ideal situation and is fertile ground for all sorts of extremist groups who will propose pie-in-the-sky solutions or deflect blame on ethnic groups.

Among the other problems of Spain is that for the past six months it has been without a government. Odds are that once one can be cobbled together it can enact smart policies to reduce the joblessness. Or not. After all, there are vested interests who will prefer the status-quo to new policies that can adversely affect them. As well, much of the working-age population does not have an education beyond high school. Many of those people have not been rehired after the crisis of 2008 and will probably remain unemployable.

Spain is now at the crossroads; either a new government will pursue bolder policies such as cutting spending and freeing up labour markets or the various players that benefit from the actual system will resist as their interests are threatened by these changes. Inertia could work against any new government and the ones who would suffer would be the young; their unemployment rate is right now at 45 percent and unlikely to change anytime soon. Fertile grounds for the extremists.

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The giant space-umbrella.

Because our world is warming rapidly all sorts of crazy ideas are coming out of the woodwork, even if the feasibility of them is dubious. The latest one is called the space umbrella. Basically, a giant space-based sunshade would cool our world as it would reduce the amount of sunlight reaching our planet. Only diverting 2 to 4% of the sun’s rays would turn back the clock to a pre-industrial age. At least, that is the theory.

Now, before you the reader scoff at this idea, it bears to understand that this scheme has high level support from the Royal Society to Nasa and the European Union.

If the concept is now mainstream, how to achieve this is still the stuff of fantasy. The shade would have to be deployed far in outer space, at a point called the L1 point, situated between the earth and the sun. The original design was a vast 2000 km-wide glass structure that would have been constructed on the moon. Other proposals include clouds of Moon dust, wire-mesh mirrors or tiny umbrellas. Of course, just getting the sunshade in space would be expensive. Or you could design something so lightweight that moving it into space would cost next to nothing.

Nevertheless, unforeseen events could mar this fantasy project. For one thing, the cooling effect would not be uniform everywhere as the tropics would be cooler and the high latitudes warmer. As well, the world would be drier, with 5% less rainfall on average.

One should add that this setting up of the sunshade would force countries to collaborate together, but this means that as some countries would experience more rainfall others would be more dry. This means a lot of political wrangling around those issues. In short, it could be that at some point, especially if the climate changes drastically, trying to set up a sun shade may be the lesser of two evils. At its best, it could force countries to cooperate more to achieve the end result. But determining which countries would suffer more and how to alleviate this would be hard to achieve. Major world bodies would have to get involve, with cash payments to those countries who would suffer the brunt of this sun-shade. Not for tomorrow is my guess, but perhaps in 100 years from now.

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