From CNet/Future of Life Institute: Autonomous weapons use Artificial Intelligence to select and engage targets without human intervention. Now, a think tank backed by scientist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk, among others, offers a graphic warning against machines that decide whom to kill. This fictional video underscores how seriously these experts view the issue.
science & research
Daniel O’Neill writes: If everyone on Earth were to lead a good life within our planet’s sustainability limits, the level of resources used to meet basic needs would have to be reduced by a factor of two to six times. These are the sobering findings of our research, recently published in the journal Nature Sustainability.
Most courses on energy deal with it in an instrumentalist manner, as if it were another substance that humans can tap and use for their benefit. Platform for Sustainability and Equity and Ecologise are pleased to announce an online course that places energy at the centre of all transformations— abiotic, biotic and in human society.
Some of the most celebrated scientific ideas and books of the 20th century may not be useful for us in this century, while lesser-known works of the past acquire new relevance. Here, then, is a selection of such works, along with an invitation for readers to critique and contribute their own suggestions to this list.
Richard Heinberg writes: Many problems are converging at once because society is a complex system, and the challenges we have been discussing are aspects of a systemic crisis. A useful way to frame an integrated understanding of the 21st century survival challenge is this: we humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species.
Peter Wohlleben, author of the best-selling ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’, explores the emotions and intelligence of animals in his new book. New scientific discoveries in this field have big moral implications, he says. A review and an excerpt, plus the video of an eye-opening talk by animal ethologist Jonathan Balcombe on the inner life of animals.
Ecologise has consistently driven home that humanity needs to prepare for unprecedented environmental, economic and socio-political upheaval and uncertainty in the 21st century. In this new series, we showcase free short-duration online courses that focus on these various emerging crises and possible responses. Created by the world’s leading universities, they offer a good starting point to explore these complex challenges.
Louis Proyect writes: As a rentier state, Iran’s economy was based on handouts rather than the production of manufactured goods. Cheap oil and subsidies made the massive use of pumps feasible just as was the case in neighbouring Syria. Groundwater extraction nearly quadrupled between the 1970s and 2000 while the number of wells rose five-fold.
‘Jholawala’ is a derogatory term that India’s urban elites use to dismiss the arguments of social activists without having to contend with them. Jean Drèze is a prime example of a jholawala who is also a first-rate economist whose arguments cannot be dismissed easily. A condensed version of the thought-provoking introduction to his new book.
No doubt, capitalism has largely enabled the huge growth of human numbers in the last two hundred years. But human population growth has been occurring even in pre-capitalist eras. Parallel to this, also environmental destruction has been occurring and growing in these eras. It is not good to tell our readers only half the truth.
Richard Smith writes: The fundamental contradiction with capitalism is that maximizing profit and saving the planet are inherently in conflict and cannot be systematically aligned even if, occasionally they coincide for a moment. But saving the world requires that the pursuit of profits be systematically subordinated to ecological concerns— and this no corporation can do.
From McSweeney’s: Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov collected more seeds from around the world than any other person in history. Yet the plant explorer, who endeavoured to end famine, starved to death in one of Stalin’s gulags. A tribute to a scientific pioneer who foresaw the need for preserving the world’s seed heritage almost a century ago.
From National Geographic: Already battered by decades of shoddy environmental policies, which had hobbled agriculture and impoverished its inhabitants, villages across rural Iraq and Syria were in no state to navigate the extra challenges of climate change. When ISIS came along, many of them quickly emerged as some of the deep-pocketed jihadists’ foremost recruiting grounds.
Recently, a powerful feature by The Guardian reported on the US’ accelerating farmer suicide crisis, part of a global farmer suicide crisis, which most acutely manifests in India. Layton Ehmke, farmer-turned-journalist, writes on how there’s no way to make a living growing food in America, and how poverty and shame are driving some to suicide.
From Entitle Blog: The “Warning to Humanity” signed by more than 15.000 scientists calls for action to save the planet proposing elitist environmentalism and missing the real target. The problem is not in the “barbarian hordes” and the “overpopulation bogeyman” but in the West’s “imperial mode of living” that is now expanding around the world.
Ridiculed when she first proposed it; biologist Lynn Margulis‘ theory of symbiosis in cell evolution is now considered one of the great scientific breakthroughs. A co-developer of the ‘Gaia hypothesis’ and a sharp critic of the Richard Dawkins-led school of Neo-Darwinist biology, Margulis was also a remarkable personality, as this interview with Edge.org clearly demonstrates.
Recent studies show that those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not. Why? Because, environmental awareness is higher among wealthy people. It’s not attitudes that govern our impacts on the planet, but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions.
Catrine Jarman writes: Recently, the Easter Islands have become the ultimate parable for humankind’s selfishness; a moral tale of the dangers of environmental destruction. But 60 years of archaeological research and recent genetic data shows that this dark tale of ecocide and Malthusian collapse has more to do with Western ignorance and prejudice than facts.
Mankind is facing the existential threat of runaway consumption of limited resources by a rapidly growing population, says a new, dire “warning to humanity” written by 15,000 scientists from 184 countries.The message updates an original warning sent 25 years ago. The experts say the picture now is far, far worse than it was in 1992.
Colin Todhunter writes: Despite four high level government reports that have advised against adopting Genetically Modified crops in India, there are alarming reports of GM okra, soyabean & brinjal being cultivated illegally in thousands of acres. The industry’s strategy is to flood the country with illegal GMOs so that there’s nothing you can do about it.