Monday, 19 July 2010

The Meaning of the 21st Century

Chapter 1 - The Transition Generation
We are going through a time of very rapid change and there will be suprises and changes in paradigm (leverage factors) that provide large-scale changes in what we can do. The challenge is definitely staying alive.

Chapter 2 What got us into this mess
  • Too much complexity, a lack of appreciation of limited natural resources. Over-confidence in technology being able to surpass nature (this is ironic as this is Bjorn Lomborg's argument and Martin is guilty himself in later chapters). The tragedy of the commons with fisheries and factory fishing, the tipping point of pollution in the Black Sea. People learn from catastrophe first.
  • Worldwatch Institute $124 billion spent to catch $70 billion problem of subsidies which encourage over fishing.

Chapter 3 Rich kids and their trust funds
  • We are using up the environmental capital without any thought to the long term sustainability (I hate using this word). Gives a very false account of the cost of what we consume. GDP can rise so long as we keep using natural resources without factoring any real costs for them.
  • Norman Myers - list of perverse subsidies that total $2 trillion each year. More than enough to end the current financial crisis and to return the world to order. Roodman D Getting the signals right $73,000 a year per worker in the Ruhr to subsidise coal mining.
  • Dangers of spin - particularly by the government where vested interests mean they hide the truth e.g tobacco showing nicotine is harmless and non-addictive.

Chapter 4 Too many people
Leverage factor is education which dramatically reduces the population growth rate and in most cases reduces it below the replacement rate. Actually in the long term we need to hit the replacement rate if we do not want to become extinct but not go above it. Liberated women are the answer - women who can ejoy sex like men!!

Chapter 5 The giant in the kitchen
  • Water security - there is an issue of IEEE spectrum about this as we have to balance water and energy needs but if we can create an excess of energy the problem goes away as we can desalinate the worlds oceans. The loss of topsoil can also be managed with careful farming methods and west is not best no matter what Martin's inference. More trees, more addition of the right minerals (Australian soil doctor). Extensive use of hydropnics especially in cities can reduce food miles but these have to be well designed and computer maintained and also stretch water resources although in a closed loop way.
  • He is a strong proponent of GM foods - GM has a risk that evolution is necessarily slow so that the consequnces are less drastic and so we cannot understand all of the ecological consequences. GM has to be treated carefully, some is fine to make disease resistant bananas for example but the round-up crops are not essential and there is some evidence that organic pest management is possible and better.

Chapter 6 Destitute nations
Crippled business because of the lack of capital - no deeds or possibility of land transfer or business transfer and so there is a lack of assets that can creat mobile capital.

Chapter 7 Climate catastrophe
This is happening the ocean conveyors (evidence is disputed) and global warming and we need to take action. Fuel cells and hydrogen-economy is the answer - fine but this technology has yet to make a big impact. Solar could be used to charge the cells - Solar Living Sourcebook Astropower 120-watt photovoltaic panel vovering Nellis Air Force Base and Nevada Test site would generate all the power for the US, 1,858,850 panels per square mile  produce 425 million kwH/year.
Fourth generation nuclear power - pebble-bed reactors - gas cooled - small so locally produced - no loss from transmission

Chapter 8 Invisible mayhem
  • The effect of the agro-chemicals on sperm levels and genital mutations. They will be around for the long-term as we made them to not-degrade and so we have to live with this but we should make no more of them.
  • The Erice statement
Chapter 9 Genetically modified humans
Too much belief in understanding the genome

Chapter 10 Nanodeluge
Gives rise to massive computing and non-human like intelligence. The problem is does this type of intelligence create knowledge or anythign we can use/work with?

Chapter 11 Automated evolution
Goal directed evolution is not evolution in the Darwinian sense - that has a teleology and you might as well call it intelligent design and god. The problem is trying to keep evolution and the environment separate. As the two mix in an undivided whole you get the law of unintended consequences and the faster the "evolution" the more serious these become.

Chapter 12 The Transhuman condition
This is just silly. There might be a singularity but for once Baroness Greenfield is right - we cannot reproduce the compelxity of our minds. We cannot reproduce the idea of freewill. A computational intelligence does not have free-will, logic denies it, it denies emotion. We would end up with the Borg. If we do choose that then we can imagine going the whole way. Digitising ourselves completely - then no food shortages, no environmental concerns, space travel becomes possible and colonisation of the universe. Only entropy would stand in our way.

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