Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

I don't know whether this study is accurate, but it's certainly interesting:

A new report coming from Optimum Population Trust and carried out by the prestigious London School of Economics says that expanding access to family planning and contraception is about five times less expensive than low-carbon technology in combatting climate change....

Between 2010 and 2050 each $7 spent on basic family planning can reduce emissions more than a ton; to achieve that same level of reduction using low-carbon tech would on average cost $32 per ton....In total, expanding access to basic family planning throughout the globe would save 34 gigatons of carbon emissions over the next 40 years,
The British government has formally apologized for its treatment of Alan Turing:
Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ - in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence - and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison - was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later....

I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue.
An Afghan student who was sentenced to death for having downloaded an article that criticized Islam's treatment of women has been freed:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai secretly pardoned Kambaksh, who was moved from a Kabul prison two weeks ago before being flown out of the country to an undisclosed location, reported the Independent UK. According to Reporters Without Borders, Kambaksh left the country due to fear of reprisals.
China is embarking on a massive solar-power project that could power 3 million homes:
The deal could open a potentially vast solar market in China and follows the Chinese government’s recent moves to accelerate development of renewable energy.

First Solar, the globe’s largest photovoltaic cell manufacturer, will also likely build a factory in China to manufacture thin-film solar panels, according to Mike Ahearn, the company’s chief executive. “It is significant that a non-Chinese company can land something like this in China,” said Mr. Ahearn in an interview.

“This is nuclear power-size scale,” said Mr. Ahearn added.
Treehugger describes a new electric motor:
[I]ts characteristics - 50% of the volume giving 2x the torque for the same power output - mean it could be used in other things than electric cars, including renewable energy generation and aerospace (lighter airplanes use less fuel...)
Treehugger also has a good discussion of a system for turning industrial waste heat (and geothermal heat) into electricity:
Surplus heat captured by the evaporator is used to "boil" the working fluid into a vapor. Under pressure, the vapor is forced through the screw expander, turning it to spin an electric generator. The vapor is cooled and condensed back into a liquid in the condenser. The working fluid liquid refrigerant is pumped to higher pressure and returned to the evaporator to repeat the process.
The Nature Conservancy is creating maps to aid in appropriate wind farm siting:
Rob Manes, TNC’s Director of Conservation for Kansas, sits on the Fish and Wildlife Service advisory committee that is developing wind farm siting guidelines, where he has proposed that key habitat be identified in advance, so that wind companies can plan around it. Such landscape-scale analysis is already being done by some wind companies, and Manes urged the committee to recommend that the practice become standard procedure. Manes imagines an ever-expanding regional database that would not only would provide maps of important environmental data, such as critical habitat for endangered species, but also would designate wind-friendly areas where turbines and wildlife are less likely to be in conflict.
Since cellphones have rendered phone booths largely obsolete, the city of Madrid plans to turn them into charging stations for electric cars:
Some 30 telephone boxes have been earmarked to form part of a test network of 546 state-subsidised recharging points in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville.

Phone boxes are often ideally placed close to the curbs of pavements and already have their own electricity supply, making them relatively easy to adapt.
Many previously unknown species have been found in an extinct volcano in Papua New Guinea:
A five week expedition into a remote extinct volcano has uncovered a treasure trove of new species in Papua New Guinea, including what may be the world's largest rat, a fanged frog, and a grunting fish. In all the expedition estimates it may have found around forty species unknown to science....

The scientists suspect that in all that they have found sixteen new species of frog, three new fish, twenty insects and arachnids, a new bat species, and of course the giant rat. One of the insects was a walking stick as long as person's forearm.
The giant woolly rat of Bosavi. Photo by Kristofer Helgen.

The World Bank has suspended palm oil projects:
In a letter sent to several NGOs, World Bank president Robert Zoelick said he shared their concerns "about the detrimental effects of palm oil development when sound environmental and social practices are not followed" and that the internal audit "highlighted important deficiencies" in IFC's approach.

Therefore, until a new strategy is implemented to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated, the IFC will not approve any new investments in palm oil. Additionally, the social and environmental impact of all existing loans to the sector will be reviewed.
Meanwhile, the EPA has ruled that all pending mountaintop-removal permits would violate the Clean Water Act.
Very big news out of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this morning: The agency has determined that all 79 mountaintop-removal mining permits submitted to it for review by the Army Corps of Engineers would violate the Clean Water Act. After eight long years of rubber-stamp permits being issued during the Bush administration, this is one of the most dramatic and encouraging actions yet by the Obama administration, and marks a welcome return of the rule of law to the coalfields of Appalachia....

During the Bush administration, EPA never opposed or challenged a permit, despite the fact that they clearly violated laws on the books to protect clean water and public health. Apparently, those days are over. This dramatic announcement by EPA that every single one of the 79 pending permits violates the Clean Water Act is a condemnation of the quality of permits being churned out during the Bush administration and is a testament to the Obama administration’s sincere commitment to science, transparency, and enforcing environmental safeguards.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the permits will never be granted, unfortunately. You can click here to urge the Administration to follow through on this issue.

Speaking of a lot of people who are "left of the left," I have a tendency to dwell gloomily on my pet disappointments, and the glacial pace of "reform." Joseph Romm offers a bit of perspective:
Obama’s record so far on clean energy and the most important environmental issue — global warming — may not be politically radical, but it is unparalleled in U.S. history.

[T]he vast majority of Obama’s initiatives will be recognized by future generations and future historians as the point at which the U.S. government embraced the inevitable and started down the sustainable path that presidents either chose to embrace voluntarily in time to avoid the worst impacts or were forced to embrace by the collapse of the global Ponzi scheme.
In Michigan, regulators are taking a dim view of two proposed coal-fired plants:
Michigan regulators dealt a setback Tuesday to proposals for new coal-fired power plants near Rogers City and Bay City, questioning the need for both projects at a time of growing emphasis on cleaner fuels.

Public Service Commission staff members presented their negative reviews in separate reports to the Department of Environmental Quality, which is considering whether to grant air emissions permits that are required before either plant could be built.
In related news, another utility has pulled out of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE):
Alstom Power, a French company that makes parts for power plants and is working on carbon sequestration, said it is leaving ACCCE immediately. “We have resigned from ACCCE because of questions that have been raised about ACCCE’s support for climate legislation,” said Tim Brown, an Alstom spokesman. The French company, which is partnering with U.S. utilities on power-plant projects, said that it wants to “remove any doubt about our full support” for a climate bill.
An abundant American weed apparently contains an important anti-cancer compound:
A common weed called American mayapple may soon offer an alternative to an Asian cousin that's been harvested almost to extinction because of its anti-cancer properties. The near-extinct Asian plant, Podophyllyum emodi, produces podophyllotoxin, a compound used in manufacturing etoposide, the active ingredient in a drug used for treating lung and testicular cancer. Podophyllyum emodi is a cousin of the common mayapple weed found in the United States.
A new antibiotic shows promise in fighting malaria:
A new study suggests that tigecycline, the first member of a new class of antibiotics, shows significant antimalarial activity on its own and may also be effective against multi drug-resistant malaria when administered in combination with traditional antimalarial drugs.
Certain strains of bacteria may be able to neutralize algal toxins in drinking water:
Blooms of blue green algae (cyanobacteria) are found in both fresh and salt water throughout the world. They produce toxins called microcystins which are released into the water and are easily ingested by animals and humans by drinking, swimming or bathing in contaminated water. Once in the body the toxins attack liver cells causing acute and chronic poisoning. Conventional methods for water treatment such as sedimentation, sand filtration, flocculation and chlorination do not remove microcystins.

The researchers at Robert Gordon's University have identified more than ten bacterial strains capable of metabolizing microcystins, breaking them down into harmless non-toxic materials.
Several Texas newspapers, having noticed that the state's commitment to abstinence has resulted in the country's highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies, are calling for reality-based sex education and increased access to contraception:
Insisting on abstinence for teen mothers having their second or third babies, without fact-based knowledge about condoms and other contraceptives, is public policy with blinders on.
Fascinating new research discusses the possibility of species-specific music:
We performed tests at the University of Wisconsin on the same species of tamarins. As with all previous studies, the tamarins showed a lack of interest in the human music. By contrast, the effect on them of the species-specific music composed by David Teie was remarkably clear and convincing. They displayed a marked increase of activity in response to the music that was designed to excite them, while the “tamarin ballad” music induced a significant calming. This calming effect was measured against the baseline of silence; they moved and vocalized less and orientated more toward the audio speakers during and immediately following the playing of the tamarin ballad.
You can listen to a sample of the composer's katzenmusik here. (I give it a 9 because you can lick your stomach fur to it, but I wouldn't buy it.)

Fonts galore at Jules Vernacular (via Coudal). Slovak book covers. Art inspired by extreme environments. Amateur travelogues at Tout Terrain. And via wood s lot, artwork by Victor Hugo, circa 1850:

Miscellaneous items, ca. 1909. Images from Grandville's Les Fleurs Animées (including "Rose," an original lithograph of which hangs near my front door, to ensure that I look at it often). Furthermore, films by Hilary Harris and photos by Richard Barnes.

Forced perspective and paper architects. The Hubble telescope is fit and working again. An online, two-player version of Hanafuda? Surely this is an age of miracles. This chart details the relationships between languages that are invoked to signify incomprehensibility (e.g., "it's all Greek to me"). Why do most of these linguistic roads lead to China? The answer may lie in these typologies by Mark Luthringer, or these show windows from Western Australia. Either way, at least one pigeon is faster than at least one ISP. Which comes as no surprise, given these production photos from early cinema.

Here's a short film in Pathé color, to sooth your jangled nerves.

(Photo at top by Karen Glaser. You can see more of her work here.)


Southern Beale said...

Thank you. I needed that.

Larkspur said...

You are the greatest. Sometimes, Bouphonia is the one phenomenon that keeps me going. Please know how important it is for someone to keep thinking, "Hmm. It's Friday. What's happening with hope?" and then you make it visible, and the whole weird-ass world gets a little less dire, and I put the safety back on, and I make tea and pet the dog and think about tomorrow.

grouchomarxist said...

And a devotee of Grandville, too? You continue to astonish.

Bless you for sharing this with all of us. Finding this place has been one of the few bright spots in a pretty unremittingly shitty spring and summer.

Phila said...

Finding this place has been one of the few bright spots in a pretty unremittingly shitty spring and summer.

Thanks, Groucho. Comments like that mean a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, per usual. It's always good to be reminded of the hope that isn't immediately beamed onto our laptops or TVs.


fokowi said...

you rock, phila...