Arquivo mensal: maio 2013

Origins of human culture linked to rapid climate change (Cardiff University)

21-May-2013

By Ian Hall

Rapid climate change during the Middle Stone Age, between 80,000 and 40,000 years ago, during the Middle Stone Age, sparked surges in cultural innovation in early modern human populations, according to new research.

The research, published this month in Nature Communications, was conducted by a team of scientists from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Barcelona.

The scientists studied a marine sediment core off the coast of South Africa and reconstructed terrestrial climate variability over the last 100,000 years.

Dr Martin Ziegler, Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: “We found that South Africa experienced rapid climate transitions toward wetter conditions at times when the Northern Hemisphere experienced extremely cold conditions.”

These large Northern Hemisphere cooling events have previously been linked to a change in the Atlantic Ocean circulation that led to a reduced transport of warm water to the high latitudes in the North. In response to this Northern Hemisphere cooling, large parts of the sub-Saharan Africa experienced very dry conditions.

“Our new data however, contrasts with sub-Saharan Africa and demonstrates that the South African climate responded in the opposite direction, with increasing rainfall, that can be associated with a globally occurring southward shift of the tropical monsoon belt.”

Linking climate change with human evolution

Professor Ian Hall, Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: “When the timing of these rapidly occurring wet pulses was compared with the archaeological datasets, we found remarkable coincidences.

“The occurrence of several major Middle Stone Age industries fell tightly together with the onset of periods with increased rainfall.”

“Similarly, the disappearance of the industries appears to coincide with the transition to drier climatic conditions.”

Professor Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum commented “The correspondence between climatic ameliorations and cultural innovations supports the view that population growth fuelled cultural changes, through increased human interactions.”

The South African archaeological record is so important because it shows some of the oldest evidence for modern behavior in early humans. This includes the use of symbols, which has been linked to the development of complex language, and personal adornments made of seashells.

“The quality of the southern African data allowed us to make these correlations between climate and behavioural change, but it will require comparable data from other areas before we can say whether this region was uniquely important in the development of modern human culture” added Professor Stringer.

The new study presents the most convincing evidence so far that abrupt climate change was instrumental in this development.

The research was supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council and is part of the international Gateways training network, funded by the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union.

Climate slowdown means extreme rates of warming ‘not as likely’ (BBC)

19 May 2013 Last updated at 17:31 GMT

By Matt McGrath – Environment correspondent, BBC News

ice

The impacts of rising temperature are being felt particularly keenly in the polar regions

Scientists say the recent downturn in the rate of global warming will lead to lower temperature rises in the short-term.

Since 1998, there has been an unexplained “standstill” in the heating of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Writing in Nature Geoscience, the researchers say this will reduce predicted warming in the coming decades.

But long-term, the expected temperature rises will not alter significantly.

“The most extreme projections are looking less likely than before” – Dr Alexander Otto, University of Oxford

The slowdown in the expected rate of global warming has been studied for several years now. Earlier this year, the UK Met Office lowered their five-year temperature forecast.

But this new paper gives the clearest picture yet of how any slowdown is likely to affect temperatures in both the short-term and long-term.

An international team of researchers looked at how the last decade would impact long-term, equilibrium climate sensitivity and the shorter term climate response.

Transient nature

Climate sensitivity looks to see what would happen if we doubled concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere and let the Earth’s oceans and ice sheets respond to it over several thousand years.

Transient climate response is much shorter term calculation again based on a doubling of CO2.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2007 that the short-term temperature rise would most likely be 1-3C (1.8-5.4F).

But in this new analysis, by only including the temperatures from the last decade, the projected range would be 0.9-2.0C.

IceThe report suggests that warming in the near term will be less than forecast

“The hottest of the models in the medium-term, they are actually looking less likely or inconsistent with the data from the last decade alone,” said Dr Alexander Otto from the University of Oxford.

“The most extreme projections are looking less likely than before.”

The authors calculate that over the coming decades global average temperatures will warm about 20% more slowly than expected.

But when it comes to the longer term picture, the authors say their work is consistent with previous estimates. The IPCC said that climate sensitivity was in the range of 2.0-4.5C.

Ocean storage

This latest research, including the decade of stalled temperature rises, produces a range of 0.9-5.0C.

“It is a bigger range of uncertainty,” said Dr Otto.

“But it still includes the old range. We would all like climate sensitivity to be lower but it isn’t.”

The researchers say the difference between the lower short-term estimate and the more consistent long-term picture can be explained by the fact that the heat from the last decade has been absorbed into and is being stored by the world’s oceans.

Not everyone agrees with this perspective.

Prof Steven Sherwood, from the University of New South Wales, says the conclusion about the oceans needs to be taken with a grain of salt for now.

“There is other research out there pointing out that this storage may be part of a natural cycle that will eventually reverse, either due to El Nino or the so-called Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, and therefore may not imply what the authors are suggesting,” he said.

The authors say there are ongoing uncertainties surrounding the role of aerosols in the atmosphere and around the issue of clouds.

“We would expect a single decade to jump around a bit but the overall trend is independent of it, and people should be exactly as concerned as before about what climate change is doing,” said Dr Otto.

Is there any succour in these findings for climate sceptics who say the slowdown over the past 14 years means the global warming is not real?

“None. No comfort whatsoever,” he said.

“Cientistas podem contar uma história sem perder a acurácia” (Fapesp)

Dan Fay, diretor da Microsoft Research Connections, afirma que a tecnologia pode ajudar os pesquisadores a expor artigos e atrair mais leitores, sejam eles seus pares, formuladores de políticas ou agências de fomento (foto:Edu Cesar/FAPESP)

Entrevistas

21/05/2013

Por Frances Jones

Agência FAPESP – Com mais de 20 anos de Microsoft, o engenheiro Dan Fay faz parte de um seleto grupo de profissionais que vasculha o mundo científico em busca de parcerias entre a gigante de informática e autores de projetos relacionados às ciências da Terra, energia e meio ambiente.

São projetos como o software World Wide Telescope, desenvolvido em parceria com pesquisadores da Universidade Johns Hopkins, que permite que cientistas de diversas regiões do mundo acessem imagens de objetos celestes coletadas por telescópios espaciais, observatórios e instituições de pesquisa, manipulem e compartilhem esses dados.

“Nosso desafio é encontrar pesquisadores a cuja pesquisa podemos agregar valor e não apenas fornecer mais máquinas”, disse Fay, que, além de ser diretor da divisão de Terra, Energia e Ambiente da Microsoft Research Connections, o braço de pesquisas da Microsoft, integra o conselho consultivo industrial para Computação e Tecnologia da Informação da Purdue University, no estado norte-americano de Indiana.

Fay esteve em São Paulo para participar do Latin American eScience Workshop 2013, promovido pela FAPESP e pela Microsoft Research de 13 a 15 de maio, quando proferiu duas palestras a pesquisadores e estudantes de diversos países sobre avanços em diversas áreas do conhecimento proporcionados pela melhoria na capacidade de análise de grandes volumes de informações. Em uma delas, falou sobre como a ciência pode utilizar a computação em nuvem; na outra, sobre “como divulgar sua pesquisa internacionalmente”. Em seguida, conversou com a Agência FAPESP. Leia abaixo, trechos da entrevista.

Agência FAPESP – O que o senhor espera para o futuro com relação à eScience, a utilização no fazer ciência de tecnologias e ferramentas de computação?
Fay – O interessante sobre a eScience é combinar dados computacionais e novas técnicas nas mais diversas áreas. O que vemos agora é um uso maior da computação, mas o passo seguinte será o cruzamento dos diferentes domínios e o uso combinado dessas informações, como, por exemplo, da biologia e do meio ambiente juntos, fazendo uma análise transversal. Os dois domínios falam línguas diferentes. A passagem entre as áreas será um dos próximos desafios. Não se pode assumir que um dado significa algo. É preciso ter certeza.

Agência FAPESP – Como os pesquisadores podem utilizar a computação em nuvem para seus estudos?
Fay – A computação em nuvem fornece um novo paradigma para enfrentar os desafios da computação e da análise de dados nas mais diversas áreas do conhecimento científico. Diferentemente dos supercomputadores tradicionais, isolados e centralizados, a nuvem está em todos os lugares e pode oferecer suporte a diferente estilos de computação que são adequados para a análise de dados e para colaboração. Nos últimos três anos temos trabalhado com pesquisadores acadêmicos para explorar o potencial desta nova plataforma. Temos mais de 90 projetos de pesquisa que usam o Windows Azure [plataforma em nuvem da Microsoft] e temos aprendido muito. Como em qualquer tecnologia nova, há sempre pessoas que começam antes e outras depois. Há vários pesquisadores que começaram a usá-la para compreender como isso pode mudar a forma com que fazem pesquisa.

Agência FAPESP – O senhor acha que no futuro haverá uma mudança na forma de se divulgar ciência?
Dan Fay – Comentei com os alunos no workshop que sempre haverá os artigos tradicionais, de revistas científicas, que são revisados pelos pares. Com a quantidade de informações que temos hoje, no entanto, para tornar isso mais visível para outras pessoas e para o público em geral, os dados também podem ser apresentados de outra forma. Um artigo que se aprofunda nos detalhes também pode ser acessível a pessoas de diferentes domínios. Produzir fotos e vídeos, entre outros recursos, também pode ajudar.

Agência FAPESP – Esse é um papel dos cientistas?
Fay – Você pode usar os mesmos dados científicos acurados e contar histórias sobre eles. E permitir que as pessoas escutem diretamente de você essa história de forma visual. Essa interação é muito poderosa. É a mesma coisa que ir ao museu e ver várias obras de arte: as pessoas se conectam a elas. Os cientistas querem que seus colegas e as pessoas em geral se conectem dessa forma com suas informações, dados ou artigos. Acho bom encontrar outros mecanismos que possam explicar os dados. Estamos em uma época fascinante na qual há uma preocupação em divulgar a informação de um jeito interessante. Isso é verdade não apenas quando se quer falar para os seus pares, mas especialmente se você quer que os formuladores de políticas, o governo ou as agências de fomento entendam o que é o seu trabalho. Às vezes ele tem de ser apresentado de forma que possa ser consumido com mais facilidade.

Agência FAPESP – A tecnologia ajuda nesse ponto?
Fay – Sim. Parte disso porque essas formas fazem com que as pessoas leiam com mais profundidade os artigos. Há uma pesquisadora em Harvard, uma astrônoma, que criou um desses tours virtuais que temos sobre as galáxias. Ela calcula que mais pessoas assistiram a seus tours do que leram seus artigos científicos. Esse tipo de entendimento está aumentando. Se posso ajudar alguém a ler um artigo ao ver isso em outro lugar, isso é um avanço.

Agência FAPESP – O senhor acha que os cientistas devem entrar em redes sociais digitais, como o Facebook, para expor seus trabalhos?
Fay – Sim. Eles devem sempre se apoiar no rigor científico, mas ajuda empregar técnicas de design ou de marketing. Mesmo em seus pôsteres. É uma forma de divulgar melhor as informações.

Agência FAPESP – E as novas tecnologias promoverão a abertura dos dados científicos?
Fay – Para além da abertura de dados, há um problema social, no qual as pessoas se sentem donas de suas ideias ou informações. Encontrar formas de compartilhar os dados e dar o devido reconhecimento às pessoas que os coletaram, processaram e os tornaram disponíveis é importante. É aí, acredito, que estão vários desafios. Também há a questão dos dados médicos ou de outros dados que você não quer que fiquem soltos por aí.

Cientistas americanos conseguem clonar embriões humanos (O Globo)

Trabalho é o primeiro a obter êxito em humanos com a técnica que deu origem à ovelha Dolly

Autores dizem que não se trata de fazer clones humanos, mas sim avançar apenas até a fase de blastocisto para obter as células-tronco

Em 2004, sul-coreano anunciou o mesmo feito mas foi desmentido um ano depois

ROBERTA JANSEN

Publicado:15/05/13 – 16h03; atualizado:15/05/13 – 20h56

Clone de embrião obtido no estudoFoto: DivulgaçãoClone de embrião obtido no estudo Divulgação

OREGON. Dezesseis anos depois da clonagem do primeiro mamífero, a ovelha Dolly, cientistas conseguiram, pela primeira vez, clonar um embrião humano em seus primeiros estágios de desenvolvimento. Os protoembriões foram usados para produzir células-tronco embrionárias — capazes de se transformar em qualquer tecido do corpo —, num avanço bastante significativo e há muito tempo esperado para o tratamento de lesões e doenças graves como Parkinson, esclerose múltipla e problemas cardíacos. Especialistas envolvidos no processo garantem que o objetivo não é clonar seres humanos, mas, sim criar novas terapias personalizadas.

Tanto é assim que os embriões humanos clonados usados na pesquisa foram destruídos em estágios ainda muito iniciais de desenvolvimento, logo depois da extração das células-tronco, e não levados ao crescimento, como no caso da ovelha Dolly e de tantos outros animais clonados depois dela. A técnica usada, no entanto, foi bastante similar à que criou a ovelha. Células da pele de um indivíduo foram colocadas em um óvulo previamente esvaziado de seu material genético e estimuladas a se desenvolver. Quando atingiram a fase de blastocisto, as células-tronco embrionárias foram extraídas e os embriões destruídos. O estudo foi publicado na revista “Cell”.

Conseguir gerar grande quantidade de células-tronco do próprio paciente era uma espécie de Santo Graal da atual ciência médica, como comparou o jornalista Steve Connor, no “Independent”. Embora o procedimento tenha sido feito com animais, até agora nunca tinha sido obtido com material humano, a despeito de inúmeras tentativas. Aparentemente, a dificuldade viria da maior fragilidade do óvulo humano.

Em 2004, um grupo coordenado por Woo Suk Hwang, da Universidade Nacional de Seoul, anunciou ter produzido o primeiro embirão humano clonado e, em seguida, obtido células-tronco embionárias a partir dele. Menos de um ano depois, no entanto, o grupo, que já havia clonado um cachorro, foi acusado de fraude e desmentiu os resultados obtidos. Outros grupos tentaram, mas os embriões não passaram do estágio de 6 a 12 células.

A corrida pela obtenção das células-tronco embrionárias faz todo o sentido. Cultivadas em laboratório, essas células podem dar origem a qualquer tecido do corpo humano. Por isso, em tese ao menos, poderiam curar lesões na medula, recompor órgãos, tratar problemas graves de visão, oferecendo tratamentos inéditos para muitas doenças hoje incuráveis. Como os tecidos seriam feitos a partir do material genético do próprio paciente (que, no caso, cedeu as células de sua pele), não haveria risco algum de rejeição. A medicina personalizada alcançaria o seu ápice.

— Nossa descoberta oferece novas maneiras de gerar células-tronco embrionárias para pacientes com problemas em tecidos e órgãos — afirmou o coordenador do estudo, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, da Universidade de Ciência e Saúde do Oregon, nos EUA, em comunicado oficial sobre o estudo. — Essas células-tronco podem regenerar órgãos ou substituir tecidos danificados, levando à cura de doenças que hoje afetam milhões de pessoas.

O grupo também conseguiu observar a capacidade de diferenciação das células obtidas em tecidos específicos

— Um atento exame das células-tronco obtidas por meio desta técnica demonstrou sua capacidade de se converter, como qualquer célula-tronco embrionária normal, em diferentes tipos de células, entre elas, células nervosas, células do fígado e céluas cardíacas — disse Mitalipov, em entrevista ao “Independent”.

No entanto, o estudo já levanta sérias preocupações éticas, sobretudo em relação à criação de clones humanos. Há o temor de que a técnica seja incorporada às oferecidas por clínicas de fertilização in vitro, como alternativa para casais estéreis, por exemplo. Outros grupos argumentam que é simplesmente antiético manipular embriões humanos.

— A pesquisa tem como único objetivo gerar células-tronco embrionárias para tratar doenças graves; e não aumentar as chances de produzir bebês clonados — garantiu Mitalipov. — Este não é o nosso foco e não acreditamos que nossas descobertas sejam usadas por outros grupos como um avanço na clonagem humana reprodutiva.

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Convívio entre homens e cães criou semelhanças genéticas (O Globo)

Amigos há 32 mil anos, a milenar relação entre as duas espécies tem estudo apresentado por zoólogos chineses 

ROBERTA JANSEN

Publicado:17/05/13 – 6h00; Atualizado:17/05/13 – 6h00

<br />Amizade milenar . Um homem e seu cachorro: novo estudo revela que relação já dura 32 mil anos e funciona tão bem porque evoluiu de forma compartilhada<br />Foto: John Hart / APAmizade milenar . Um homem e seu cachorro: novo estudo revela que relação já dura 32 mil anos e funciona tão bem porque evoluiu de forma compartilhada John Hart / AP

RIO- Cachorros podem, de fato, ser os melhores amigos do homem porque compartilham uma história evolutiva em comum muito mais longa do que se imaginava. Estudo publicado esta semana na “Nature Communications” revelou que os cães teriam sido domesticados há 32 mil anos — quase o dobro do que se acreditava. Esta duradoura e intensa relação teria, inclusive, um impacto na genética dos animais e dos homens, que foi ficando parecida em alguns aspectos. Na verdade, conclui o estudo, os cães se auto-domesticaram para serem mais aceitos pelos humanos que, por sua vez, também se adaptaram aos animais.

Um grupo de pesquisadores do Instituto de Zoologia da China, coordenados por Ya-Ping Zhang, obteve o genoma completo de quatro lobos cinzentos de diferentes pontos da Ásia e da Europa, três cachorros nativos do sudoeste da China, e três representantes de raças atuais. Geneticistas confirmaram que os cães nativos da China representam o primeiro estágio da domesticação canina — o genoma deles traz informação sobre a transição de lobos para os cachorros ancestrais, tornando-os uma espécie de “elo perdido” da domesticação.

Os lobos se auto-domesticaram

A equipe descobriu também que os lobos apresentam a maior diversidade genética, enquanto que os cachorros modernos ficam com a menor. Analisando a quantidade de mutações, os especialistas conseguiram estabelecer que a separação entre lobos e cães nativos chineses ocorreu na Ásia, há 32 mil anos.

Diferentemente do que se imaginava, dizem os cientistas, os homens não adotaram filhotes de lobos. Teria sido bem o oposto disso.

O processo provavelmente começou com os lobos que rondavam em torno de populações humanas de caçadores-coletores em busca de restos de alimento e carcaças, num processo que os pesquisadores chamam de auto-domesticação.

— A hipótese mais interessante levantada por essa pesquisa é a auto-domesticação — afirmou Zhang em entrevista. — De acordo com essa hipótese, os primeiros lobos teriam sido atraídos para viver e caçar com os humanos. E com sucessivas mudanças adaptativas, esses animais se tornaram progressivamente mais propensos a viver com os homens.

Nesta situação, os lobos mais agressivos teriam se saído muito mal, porque a tendência seria que fossem mortos pelos homens. Os animais mais mansos, no entanto, teriam se adaptado melhor e se multiplicado. Ou seja, os lobos se auto-domesticaram.

A pesquisa conseguiu estabelecer que a domesticação impôs uma determinante força seletiva nos genes envolvidos na digestão e no metabolismo — provavelmente por conta da mudança de uma dieta estritamente carnívora para uma onívora.

Os genes que governam processos neurológicos complexos também sofreram tal pressão, sobretudo devido à necessidade de redução da agressão e do aumento de complexos processos de interação com os seres humanos.

Curiosamente, o grupo descobriu que a contraparte humana de diversos desses genes, particularmente aqueles envolvidos nos processos neurológicos, também sofreram uma forte pressão seletiva ao longo do tempo, refletindo os fatores ambientais similares vivenciados por homens e cachorros ao longo de milhares de anos de uma relação tão próxima.

Mais dóceis e mansos

Alguns dos genes estão associados a doenças similares no homem e no cão. Outros são ativos na região do córtex pré-frontal, onde os mamíferos tomam decisões sobre o comportamento. Alguns genes estão envolvidos no maior número de conexões entre os neurônios. Um gene em particular, o SLC6A4, é responsável pela codificação da proteína que transporta o neurotransmissor serotonina.

— Outros estudos já haviam revelado que o gene é relacionado ao comportamento agressivo e ao transtorno obsessivo-compulsivo não apenas em homens mas também em cachorros — afirmou Zhang.

Mudança semelhante foi também constatada nos homens — indicando que nós também tivemos que nos tornar menos agressivos para tolerar os outros e viver bem em grupos.

Para o cientista, o estudo da base genética de diversas doenças em cães pode ajudar na compreensão de doenças similares em humanos.

Leia mais sobre esse assunto em http://oglobo.globo.com/ciencia/convivio-entre-homens-caes-criou-semelhancas-geneticas-8415160#ixzz2TluyW7T9 © 1996 – 2013. Todos direitos reservados a Infoglobo Comunicação e Participações S.A. Este material não pode ser publicado, transmitido por broadcast, reescrito ou redistribuído sem autorização.

World Bank turns to hydropower to square development with climate change (Washington Post)

Michael Reynolds/European Photopress Agency – World Bank President Jim Yong Kim attends the Fragility Forum this month in Washington. The forum discussed ways for fragile nations to improve their economies, their infrastructure and the well-being of their citizens.

By , Published: May 8, 2013

The World Bank is making a major push to develop large-scale hydropower projects around the globe, something it had all but abandoned a decade ago but now sees as crucial to resolving the tension between economic development and the drive to tame carbon use.

Major hydropower projects in Congo, Zambia, Nepal and elsewhere — all of a scale dubbed “transformational” to the regions involved — are a focus of the bank’s fundraising drive among wealthy nations. Bank lending for hydropower has scaled up steadily in recent years, and officials expect the trend to continue amid a worldwide boom in water-fueled electricity.

Such projects were shunned in the 1990s, in part because they can be disruptive to communities and ecosystems. But the World Bank is opening the taps for dams, transmission lines and related infrastructure as its president, Jim Yong Kim, tries to resolve a quandary at the bank’s core: how to eliminate poverty while adding as little as possible to carbon emissions.

“Large hydro is a very big part of the solution for Africa and South Asia and Southeast Asia. . . . I fundamentally believe we have to be involved,” said Rachel Kyte, the bank’s vice president for sustainable development and an influential voice among Kim’s top staff members. The earlier move out of hydro “was the wrong message. . . . That was then. This is now. We are back.”

It is a controversial stand. The bank backed out of large-scale hydropower because of the steep trade-offs involved. Big dams produce lots of cheap, clean electricity, but they often uproot villages in dam-flooded areas and destroy the livelihoods of the people the institution is supposed to help. A 2009 World Bank review of hydro­power noted the “overwhelming environmental and social risks” that had to be addressed but also concluded that Africa and Asia’s vast and largely undeveloped hydropower potential was key to providing dependable electricity to the hundreds of millions of people who remain without it.

“What’s the one issue that’s holding back development in the poorest countries? It’s energy. There’s just no question,” Kim said in an interview.

Advocacy groups remain skeptical, arguing that large projects, such as Congo’s long-debated network of dams around Inga Falls, may be of more benefit to mining companies or industries in neighboring countries than poor communities.

“It is the old idea of a silver bullet that can modernize whole economies,” said Peter Bosshard, policy director of International Rivers, a group that has organized opposition to the bank’s evolving hydro policy and argued for smaller projects designed around communities rather than mega-dams meant to export power throughout a region.

“Turning back to hydro is being anything but a progressive climate bank,” said Justin Guay, a Sierra Club spokesman on climate and energy issues. “There needs to be a clear shift from large, centralized projects.”

The major nations that support the World Bank, however, have been pushing it to identify such projects — complex undertakings that might happen only if an international organization is involved in sorting out the financing, overseeing the performance and navigating the politics.

The move toward big hydro comes amid Kim’s stark warning that global warming will leave the next generation with an “unrecognizable planet.” That dire prediction, however, has left him struggling to determine how best to respond and frustrated by some of the bank’s inherent limitations.

In his speeches, Kim talks passionately about the bank’s ability to “catalyze” and “leverage” the world to action by mobilizing money and ideas, and he says he is hunting for ideas “equal to the challenge” of curbing carbon use. He has criticized the “small bore” thinking that he says has hobbled progress on the issue.

However, the bank remains in the business of financing traditional fossil-fuel plants, including those that use the dirtiest form of coal, as well as cleaner but ­carbon-based natural gas infrastructures.

Among the projects likely to cross Kim’s desk in coming months, for example, is a 600-megawatt power plant in Kosovo that would be fired by lignite coal, the bottom of the barrel when it comes to carbon emissions.

The plant has strong backing from the United States, the World Bank’s major shareholder. It also meshes with one of the bank’s other long-standing imperatives: Give countries what they ask for. The institution has 188 members to keep happy and can go only so far in trying to impose its judgment over that of local officials. Kim, who in his younger days demonstrated against World Bank-enforced “orthodoxy” in economic policy, now may be hard-pressed to enforce an energy orthodoxy of his own.

Kosovo’s domestic supplies of lignite are ample enough to free the country from imported fuel. Kim said there is little question that Kosovo needs more electricity, and the new plant will allow an older, more polluting facility to be shut down.

“I would just love to never sign a coal project,” Kim said. “We understand it is much, much dirtier, but . . . we have 188 members. . . . We have to be fair in balancing the needs of poor countries . . . with this other bigger goal of tackling climate change.”

The bank is working on other ideas. Kim said he is considering how it might get involved in creating a more effective world market for carbon, allowing countries that invest in renewable energy or “climate friendly” agriculture to be paid for their carbon savings by industries that need to use fossil fuels. Existing carbon markets have been plagued with volatile pricing — Europe’s cost of carbon has basically collapsed — or rules that prevent carbon trading with developing countries.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to establish a stable price of carbon,” Kim said. “Everybody knows that.”

He has also staked hope for climate progress on developments in agriculture.

Hydropower projects, however, seem notably inside what Kim says is the bank’s sweet spot — complex, high-impact, green and requiring the sort of joint public and private financing Kim says the bank can attract.

The massive hydropower potential of the Congo River, estimated at about 40,000 megawatts, is such a target. Its development is on a list of top world infrastructure priorities prepared by the World Bank and other development agencies for the Group of 20 major economic powers.

Two smaller dams on the river have been plagued by poor performance and are being rehabilitated with World Bank assistance. A third being planned would represent a quantum jump — a 4,800-megawatt, $12 billion giant that would move an entire region off carbon-based electricity.

The African Development Bank has begun negotiations over the financing, and the World Bank is ready to step in with tens of millions of dollars in technical-planning help.

“In an ideal world, we start building in 2016. By 2020, we switch on the lights,” said Hela Cheikhrouhou, energy and environment director for the African Development Bank.

It is the sort of project that the World Bank had stayed away from for many years — not least because of instability in the country. But as the country tries to move beyond its civil war and the region intensifies its quest for the power to fuel economic growth, the bank seems ready to move. Kim will visit Congo this month for a discussion about development in fragile and war-torn states.

Kyte, the World Bank vice president, said the Inga project will be high on the agenda.

“People have been looking at the Inga dam for as long as I have been in the development business,” she said. “The question is: Did the stars align? Did you have a government in place? Did people want to do it? Are there investors interested? Do you have the ability to do the technical work? The stars are aligned now. Let’s go.”

Chilean Judge Upholds Manslaughter Charges Linked to ’10 Tsunami (N.Y.Times)

By PASCALE BONNEFOY

Published: May 16, 2013

SANTIAGO, Chile — A judge dismissed an appeal to suspend involuntary manslaughter charges against four government officials accused of failing to issue a tsunami alert after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile in 2010.

“This court believes that not enough was done to avoid the catastrophic results” of the quake, Judge Ponciano Sallés said in his ruling. “Any reasonable analysis would conclude that the risk was greater by not evacuating the population than by doing so,” he said, adding that “information was concealed.”

The investigation into the deaths of 156 people and the disappearance of 25 more during the tsunami seeks to establish responsibility for the confusing and contradictory chain of decisions made by government officials and emergency agencies shortly after the earthquake. The actions resulted in mistaken public assurances that there was no risk of tsunami, despite reports that one had already devastated the Juan Fernández Archipelago in the Pacific, west of the Chilean coast.

The former director of the National Emergency Agency, Carmen Fernández, is accused of providing false information and not issuing a tsunami alert. The former under secretary of the interior, Patricio Rosende, has been charged with “imprudent conduct” in neglecting to warn the population. Both argued that it was up to the navy’s oceanographic service to issue the alert.

According to survivors, many families returned to their homes on the coast after hearing the president at the time, Michelle Bachelet, say on the radio that there was no danger of a tsunami. Raúl Meza, a lawyer for one victim’s family, has formally requested that prosecutors interrogate the former president as a suspect. Ms. Bachelet, who is campaigning for the presidential elections in November, has testified twice, but as a witness.

Three other officials have also been charged but did not appeal. The accusations, filed last year against the seven, include operating with inexperienced personnel, lacking knowledge on the use of technology, leaving shifts vacant at regional emergency agencies and ignoring field reports.

“If the accused had been fulfilling their duties, lives would have been saved,” said the lead prosecutor, Solange Huerta, after the ruling.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 17, 2013, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Chilean Judge Rejects Appeal Of Charges In ’10 Tsunami.

Câmara de SP aprova projeto que permite enterro de pets com dono (Folha de S.Paulo)

16/05/2013 – 18h00

DE SÃO PAULO

A Câmara Municipal de São Paulo aprovou, em primeira votação nesta quinta-feira (16), o projeto de lei que permite que animais domésticos sejam enterrados no mesmo jazigo de seus donos em cemitérios municipais.

Ontem, a proposta já havia sido aprovada pela Comissão de Constituição e Justiça da casa. Agora, o projeto ainda precisa passar por outra votação na Câmara antes de ser sancionado pelo prefeito Fernando Haddad (PT).

Segundo o projeto, dos vereadores Roberto Tripoli (PV) e Antonio Goulart (PSD), o enterro destina-se a bichos de estimação de famílias que já têm jazigo nos cemitérios municipais.

De acordo com Goulart, o objetivo do projeto é solucionar a atual falta de local para destinação de animais mortos na cidade.

Segundo o vereador, mui­tas pessoas querem enterrar o bicho de estimação no ja­zigo familiar. “O animal faz parte da família.”

O projeto foi apresentado no plenário da Câmara na semana passada. “O projeto vai passar sem problemas. É um assunto atual”, previu Goulart.

O Serviço Funerário da cidade diz ser preciso um estudo técnico para avaliar a viabilidade da proposta.

Câmara de São Paulo aprova envio de torpedo para alertar chuvas (Folha de S.Paulo)

16/05/2013 – 17h01

GIBA BERGAMIM JR., DE SÃO PAULO

Atualizado às 17h54.

A Câmara de São Paulo aprovou um projeto que obriga a prefeitura a enviar mensagens de texto aos celulares dos paulistanos com alertas sobre a chegada de chuvas e de iminentes alagamentos.

De autoria do vereador Ricardo Young (PPS), o projeto agora precisa ser sancionado pelo prefeito Fernando Haddad (PT) para começar a valer.

Hoje, a única maneira de se informar sobre isso é acompanhando o noticiário nas rádios e emissoras de TV ou por meio do site do CGE (Centro de Gerenciamento de Emergências), da prefeitura, que monitora as chuvas na cidade.

O vereador diz que se inspirou em iniciativas do tipo nos Estados Unidos e Europa para dar informações sobre nevascas, por exemplo.

Em 2011, a prefeitura deu início a um projeto semelhante, mas apenas para os moradores da região da favela Pantanal, na zona leste de São Paulo, que sofreu com as enchentes durante quase dois meses inteiros durante o verão.

De acordo com o texto de Young, o município terá que celebrar convênios com empresas de telefonia móvel. As informações terão que ser passadas com antecedência de pelo menos duas horas aos paulistanos.

Segundo o parlamentar, o projeto permitiria que empresas, repartições públicas e escolas pudessem antecipar o fim do expediente para que os paulistanos cheguem em casa antes das chuvas.

PROJETOS

Também foi aprovado projeto dos vereadores Antonio Goulart (PSD) e Roberto Trípoli (PV) que permite que os animais de estimação sejam enterrados no mesmo jazigo de seus donos em cemitérios municipais. O projeto irá a segunda votação.

A um ano da Copa do Mundo, os vereadores também deram o título de cidadão paulistano para o presidente da Fifa, Joseph Blatter

Scientist Superheroes: The US Government’s Crisis Science Team (Quest)

Post on May 13, 2013 by , Guest Contributor for   (science.kqed.org)

Science During Crisis 640 360

If your town were suddenly struck by an earthquake or hurricane, you could count on the arrival of police, firefighters, and medical technicians to aid in the emergency response. As of this past January, the US government has added a new team of responders to this list—scientists.

The Strategic Sciences Group was formed under Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in order to help the department “act quickly, decisively and effectively when hurricanes, droughts, oil spills, wildfires or other crises strike.” The group was initially tested as a pilot program during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and is now a permanent part of the Department of the Interior.

But don’t expect to see people in lab coats rushing into burning buildings or diving into flooding rivers.

“The Strategic Sciences Group’s mission,” says group co-leader Gary Machlis, “is to very quickly assemble a team of scientists to develop scenarios of what the cascading consequences of a crisis might be.” These scenarios are projections of all the different ways in which the disaster might play out. The projections are then delivered to the President and other national leaders to help inform real-time, emergency-response decisions.

During Deepwater Horizon, for example, calculations regarding oil flow rates helped decision-makers respond to obvious problems such as ecosystem contamination, as well as some subtler consequences: long-term displacement of oyster harvesters, disproportionate economic impacts upon cultural communities, and diminished hurricane resilience due to wetland stress.

Deepwater Horizon in flames, April 21, 2010.

Deepwater Horizon in flames, April 21, 2010.
(AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard)

With such a breadth of potential consequences to examine, its clear that the Strategic Sciences Group’s task is not simple. What is surprising however, is that many of the group’s difficulties stem from the nature of the scientific process itself.

“Scientists are very accustomed to being deliberate in their work,” says Marcia Mcnutt, who worked with the Strategic Sciences Group during her tenure as director of the United States Geological Survey. “The idea that they might get critical info on a Monday night and need to have their best guess of what that info means by six am Tuesday morning is just not the normal way science operates.”

And, Machlis adds, the rapidly determined results must also be communicated persuasively.

“It isn’t enough to do good science. You might have an extraordinary, complex scenario figured out that’s important for leaders to know, but if you can’t tell that story clearly and effectively, it’s of less value.”

These requirements—the ability to work with urgency, cope with uncertainty, and communicate well with non-scientists—separate crisis science from traditional scientific research.

When creating the Strategic Sciences Group, Machlis responded to these unique demands by borrowing ideas from an unusual agency: The Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, which was established during World War II to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines.

Machlis says he has learned four important lessons from the historic military-intelligence organization:

1. Who You Hire Matters

OSS founder Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan with members of the OSS Operational Groups

OSS founder Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan with members of the OSS
Photo Courtesy of the OSS Society

“The ideal candidate for the OSS were PhD’s that could win a bar fight,” says Machlis.

While martial arts training is not an actual requirement, the Strategic Sciences Group does seek scientists with a certain mental and physical tenacity. “They‘ve got to be expert in their own discipline, able to transcend their own discipline and work well with other scientists, and they have to be able to work extremely hard under very intense conditions.”

2. Expertise Not Representation

“Our goal is to get the very best people in the field working on these science teams. It is less about do we need one person from this agency and one person from this agency to make sure it’s representative.”

From government scientists to graduate students, anyone with the necessary skills can be recruited and put onto Machlis’ lists, or “rosters”.

3. Be Flexible

US Department of the Interior Strategic Sciences Working Group, New Orleans, LA, July 2010.

US Department of the Interior Strategic Sciences Working Group, New Orleans, LA, July 2010. Photo Credit: Jason Newman

Machlis ensures that the rosters are highly interdisciplinary. The 30 scientists who have already been called to action include “an anthropologist with expertise in disaster response from Louisiana, a public health medical officer from Washington, DC, a coastal geomorphologist from California, an ecologist working with a major natural history museum, and a Forest Service social scientist with expertise in urban ecology.”

Such diversity allows the Strategic Sciences Group to be highly adaptable.

“Each crisis that might happen, whether it’s an oil spill, whether it’s an earth quake, whether it’s a dam failure, there’s always going to be many elements of it that are unique. We need to be flexible enough to choose a team that has reliable expert scientists appropriate to that crisis.”

4. Avoid Bureaucracy

“We stay focused on the mission rather than developing a lot of complicated, time-consuming bureaucratic processes.”

In order to avoid creating a large government agency, Machlis only activates the rostered scientists when a disaster occurs. At all other times, the Strategic Sciences Group is made up of only three people.

This three person team, when there are no current crises, spends its time evaluating the consequences of potential crises.

By considering situations such as “a forest fire in the sierras during Yosemite’s tourist season, or a pandemic, or an arctic oil spill,” the group hopes to pre-emptively increase response preparedness. Ultimately, Machlis aims to have the capacity to address simultaneous, bi-coastal disasters. For example: an earthquake in California and a hurricane in New York on the same day.

When will the group be ready for such a situation?

“I would hope that we’re prepared for that within the year.”

Mark that down as December 31st, 2013–the date when you can expect not only police and firefighters, but also scientists, to play a role in addressing the next major natural or man-made disaster.

Nos últimos 150 anos, já tentaram de tudo para a ‘cura gay’, diz livro (Folha de S.Paulo)

14/05/2013 – 16h32

da Livraria da Folha

A tentativa de transformar homossexuais em héteros usando métodos “científicos” já tem mais de 150 anos. A medicina, segundo os pesquisadores James Naylor Green e Ronaldo Polito, já tentou de tudo para “curá-los”.

“Confinamento, choques elétricos, medicação pesada, tratamento psicológico ou psiquiátrico, psicanálise individual, de grupo e familiar, camisa de força, transplante de testículos, eis aí algumas das “técnicas” de intervenção no corpo e na mente dos homens que preferem se relacionar afetiva e sexualmente com outros homens”, contam em “Frescos Trópicos”.

O título faz parte da coleção “Baú de Histórias”, coordenada pela historiadora Mary Del Priore, autora “Histórias Íntimas”“Ancestrais: Uma Introdução à História da África Atlântica”“A Família no Brasil Colonial”“500 Anos Brasil: Histórias e Reflexões“Festas e Utopias no Brasil Colonial” e“Matar para Não Morrer” e do recém-lançado “O Castelo de Papel”.

No livro, os autores examinam o período entre as décadas de 1870 e 1980, fundamentados em informações publicadas nessa época. Abaixo, leia trecho de “Frescos Trópicos”.

 

Acompanha o surgimento lento de uma consciência sobre a homossexualidade “Pode-se dizer que a medicina, nos últimos 150 anos, já tentou ou propôs de tudo para a “cura” dos homossexuais. Confinamento, choques elétricos, medicação pesada, tratamento psicológico ou psiquiátrico, psicanálise individual, de grupo e familiar, camisa de força, transplante de testículos, eis aí algumas das “técnicas” de intervenção no corpo e na mente dos homens que preferem se relacionar afetiva e sexualmente com outros homens.

Entre inúmeros exemplos do passado, citemos Pires de Almeira, em “Homossexualismo”, de 1906, que propõe um tratamento específico para os invertidos. Mas, primeiro, vamos entender o que ele chama de “invertido”: “é aquele que, de nascença, é já invertivo, e que, em toda a associação sexual, representa o papel de macho: é, pois, um macho mais macho, se se trata de um homem”. “Invertidos”, portanto, nascem homossexuais, diferentemente dos “pervertidos” que, segundo o autor, “depois de terem sido já sexuais normais, se tornaram invertidos por qualquer motivo”.

Para Pires de Almeida, o tratamento dos “pervertidos” é somente um pouco mais simples do que dos “invertidos”. Para estes ele recomenda, entre outros procedimentos:

“O invertido deveria ser acompanhado desde a infância, vigiado por uma espécie de tutor que, à feição de um aparelho ortopédico moral, fosse-lhe obstáculo ao desvio, trabalhando pertinentemente para que a consolidação se efetue em absoluto. (…)

Antes de tudo, devemos lembrar que tais desregramentos são puramente moléstias mentais; e, por isso, aconselharei, quando não tenhamos acompanhando o indivíduo desde a infância, e hajamos iniciado o tratamento em idade tardia, medicá-lo pela estética sugestiva; isto é, por meio do magnetismo e da sugestão combinados: bem orientar-lhe o espírito, dirigindo sua atenção para a beleza das formas femininas, cercá-lo de modelos célebres em pintura, na estatuária principalmente, e obrigá-lo à leitura de obras românticas em que tais belezas despertem as paixões tumultuosas. Facilitar-se-lhe-á o encontro com mulheres plasticamente sensuais, fáceis às carícias, graciosas, faceiras; não se hesitará até diante de certos subterfúrgios a princípio, tal como, por exemplo, o de provocar o coito do invertido com mulheres vestidas de homem; ou mesmo obrigá-lo a pernoitar com mulheres completamente nuas, ainda que não as goze.

Se, porém, existe, da parte do doente, repulsão invencível para as sociedades ambíguas, recorrer-se-á à convivência em outro meio: mulheres atraentes, sim, porém puras, puríssimas, virtuosas: o seio perfumado das famílias.”

“Frescos Trópicos”
Autores: Ronald Polito, James Naylor Green
Editora: José Olympio
Páginas: 196
Quanto: R$ 23,90 (preço promocional*)
Onde comprar: pelo telefone 0800-140090 ou pelo site da Livraria da Folha

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Climate Change Will Cause Widespread Global-Scale Loss of Common Plants and Animals, Researchers Predict (Science Daily)

May 12, 2013 — More than half of common plants and one third of the animals could see a dramatic decline this century due to climate change, according to research from the University of East Anglia.

Frog. Plants, reptiles and particularly amphibians are expected to be at highest risk. (Credit: © Anna Omelchenko / Fotolia)

Research published today in the journal Nature Climate Change looked at 50,000 globally widespread and common species and found that more than one half of the plants and one third of the animals will lose more than half of their climatic range by 2080 if nothing is done to reduce the amount of global warming and slow it down.

This means that geographic ranges of common plants and animals will shrink globally and biodiversity will decline almost everywhere.

Plants, reptiles and particularly amphibians are expected to be at highest risk. Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia would lose the most species of plants and animals. And a major loss of plant species is projected for North Africa, Central Asia and South-eastern Europe.

But acting quickly to mitigate climate change could reduce losses by 60 per cent and buy an additional 40 years for species to adapt. This is because this mitigation would slow and then stop global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial times (1765). Without this mitigation, global temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The study was led by Dr Rachel Warren from UEA’s school of Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Collaborators include Dr.Jeremy VanDerWal at James Cook University in Australia and Dr Jeff Price, also at UEA’s school of Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Centre. The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Dr Warren said: “While there has been much research on the effect of climate change on rare and endangered species, little has been known about how an increase in global temperature will affect more common species.

“This broader issue of potential range loss in widespread species is a serious concern as even small declines in these species can significantly disrupt ecosystems.

“Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world. This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.

“We looked at the effect of rising global temperatures, but other symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events, pests, and diseases mean that our estimates are probably conservative. Animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants.

“There will also be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism.

“The good news is that our research provides crucial new evidence of how swift action to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases can prevent the biodiversity loss by reducing the amount of global warming to 2 degrees Celsius rather than 4 degrees. This would also buy time — up to four decades — for plants and animals to adapt to the remaining 2 degrees of climate change.”

The research team quantified the benefits of acting now to mitigate climate change and found that up to 60 per cent of the projected climatic range loss for biodiversity can be avoided.

Dr Warren said: “Prompt and stringent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally would reduce these biodiversity losses by 60 per cent if global emissions peak in 2016, or by 40 per cent if emissions peak in 2030, showing that early action is very beneficial. This will both reduce the amount of climate change and also slow climate change down, making it easier for species and humans to adapt.”

Information on the current distributions of the species used in this research came from the datasets shared online by hundreds of volunteers, scientists and natural history collections through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

Co-author Dr Jeff Price, also from UEA’s school of Environmental Studies, said: “Without free and open access to massive amounts of data such as those made available online through GBIF, no individual researcher is able to contact every country, every museum, every scientist holding the data and pull it all together. So this research would not be possible without GBIF and its global community of researchers and volunteers who make their data freely available.”

Journal Reference:

  1. R. Warren, J. VanDerWal, J. Price, J. A. Welbergen, I. Atkinson, et al. Quantifying the benefit of early climate change mitigation in avoiding biodiversity lossNature Climate Change, 2013 DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1887

Global Networks Must Be Redesigned, Experts Urge (Science Daily)

May 1, 2013 — Our global networks have generated many benefits and new opportunities. However, they have also established highways for failure propagation, which can ultimately result in human-made disasters. For example, today’s quick spreading of emerging epidemics is largely a result of global air traffic, with serious impacts on global health, social welfare, and economic systems.

Our global networks have generated many benefits and new opportunities. However, they have also established highways for failure propagation, which can ultimately result in human-made disasters. For example, today’s quick spreading of emerging epidemics is largely a result of global air traffic, with serious impacts on global health, social welfare, and economic systems. (Credit: © Angie Lingnau / Fotolia)

Helbing’s publication illustrates how cascade effects and complex dynamics amplify the vulnerability of networked systems. For example, just a few long-distance connections can largely decrease our ability to mitigate the threats posed by global pandemics. Initially beneficial trends, such as globalization, increasing network densities, higher complexity, and an acceleration of institutional decision processes may ultimately push human-made or human-influenced systems towards systemic instability, Helbing finds. Systemic instability refers to a system, which will get out of control sooner or later, even if everybody involved is well skilled, highly motivated and behaving properly. Crowd disasters are shocking examples illustrating that many deaths may occur even when everybody tries hard not to hurt anyone.

Our Intuition of Systemic Risks Is Misleading

Networking system components that are well-behaved in separation may create counter-intuitive emergent system behaviors, which are not well-behaved at all. For example, cooperative behavior might unexpectedly break down as the connectivity of interaction partners grows. “Applying this to the global network of banks, this might actually have caused the financial meltdown in 2008,” believes Helbing.

Globally networked risks are difficult to identify, map and understand, since there are often no evident, unique cause-effect relationships. Failure rates may change depending on the random path taken by the system, with the consequence of increasing risks as cascade failures progress, thereby decreasing the capacity of the system to recover. “In certain cases, cascade effects might reach any size, and the damage might be practically unbounded,” says Helbing. “This is quite disturbing and hard to imagine.” All of these features make strongly coupled, complex systems difficult to predict and control, such that our attempts to manage them go astray.

“Take the financial system,” says Helbing. “The financial crisis hit regulators by surprise.” But back in 2003, the legendary investor Warren Buffet warned of mega-catastrophic risks created by large-scale investments into financial derivatives. It took 5 years until the “investment time bomb” exploded, causing losses of trillions of dollars to our economy. “The financial architecture is not properly designed,” concludes Helbing. “The system lacks breaking points, as we have them in our electrical system.” This allows local problems to spread globally, thereby reaching catastrophic dimensions.

A Global Ticking Time Bomb?

Have we unintentionally created a global time bomb? If so, what kinds of global catastrophic scenarios might humans face in complex societies? A collapse of the world economy or of our information and communication systems? Global pandemics? Unsustainable growth or environmental change? A global food or energy crisis? A cultural clash or global-scale conflict? Or will we face a combination of these contagious phenomena — a scenario that the World Economic Forum calls the “perfect storm”?

“While analyzing such global risks,” says Helbing, “one must bear in mind that the propagation speed of destructive cascade effects might be slow, but nevertheless hard to stop. It is time to recognize that crowd disasters, conflicts, revolutions, wars, and financial crises are the undesired result of operating socio-economic systems in the wrong parameter range, where systems are unstable.” In the past, these social problems seemed to be puzzling, unrelated, and almost “God-given” phenomena one had to live with. Nowadays, thanks to new complexity science models and large-scale data sets (“Big Data”), one can analyze and understand the underlying mechanisms, which let complex systems get out of control.

Disasters should not be considered “bad luck.” They are a result of inappropriate interactions and institutional settings, caused by humans. Even worse, they are often the consequence of a flawed understanding of counter-intuitive system behaviors. “For example, it is surprising that we didn’t have sufficient precautions against a financial crisis and well-elaborated contingency plans,” states Helbing. “Perhaps, this is because there should not be any bubbles and crashes according to the predominant theoretical paradigm of efficient markets.” Conventional thinking can cause fateful decisions and the repetition of previous mistakes. “In other words: While we want to do the right thing, we often do wrong things,” concludes Helbing. This obviously calls for a paradigm shift in our thinking. “For example, we may try to promote innovation, but suffer economic decline, because innovation requires diversity more than homogenization.”

Global Networks Must Be Re-Designed

Helbing’s publication explores why today’s risk analysis falls short. “Predictability and controllability are design issues,” stresses Helbing. “And uncertainty, which means the impossibility to determine the likelihood and expected size of damage, is often man-made.” Many systems could be better managed with real-time data. These would allow one to avoid delayed response and to enhance the transparency, understanding, and adaptive control of systems. However, even all the data in the world cannot compensate for ill-designed systems such as the current financial system. Such systems will sooner or later get out of control, causing catastrophic human-made failure. Therefore, a re-design of such systems is urgently needed.

Helbing’s Nature paper on “Globally Networked Risks” also calls attention to strategies that make systems more resilient, i.e. able to recover from shocks. For example, setting up backup systems (e.g. a parallel financial system), limiting the system size and connectivity, building in breaking points to stop cascade effects, or reducing complexity may be used to improve resilience. In the case of financial systems, there is still much work to be done to fully incorporate these principles.

Contemporary information and communication technologies (ICT) are also far from being failure-proof. They are based on principles that are 30 or more years old and not designed for today’s use. The explosion of cyber risks is a logical consequence. This includes threats to individuals (such as privacy intrusion, identity theft, or manipulation through personalized information), to companies (such as cybercrime), and to societies (such as cyberwar or totalitarian control). To counter this, Helbing recommends an entirely new ICT architecture inspired by principles of decentralized self-organization as observed in immune systems, ecology, and social systems.

Coming Era of Social Innovation

A better understanding of the success principles of societies is urgently needed. “For example, when systems become too complex, they cannot be effectively managed top-down” explains Helbing. “Guided self-organization is a promising alternative to manage complex dynamical systems bottom-up, in a decentralized way.” The underlying idea is to exploit, rather than fight, the inherent tendency of complex systems to self-organize and thereby create a robust, ordered state. For this, it is important to have the right kinds of interactions, adaptive feedback mechanisms, and institutional settings, i.e. to establish proper “rules of the game.” The paper offers the example of an intriguing “self-control” principle, where traffic lights are controlled bottom-up by the vehicle flows rather than top-down by a traffic center.

Creating and Protecting Social Capital

“One man’s disaster is another man’s opportunity. Therefore, many problems can only be successfully addressed with transparency, accountability, awareness, and collective responsibility,” underlines Helbing. Moreover, social capital such as cooperativeness or trust is important for economic value generation, social well-being and societal resilience, but it may be damaged or exploited. “Humans must learn how to quantify and protect social capital. A warning example is the loss of trillions of dollars in the stock markets during the financial crisis.” This crisis was largely caused by a loss of trust. “It is important to stress that risk insurances today do not consider damage to social capital,” Helbing continues. However, it is known that large-scale disasters have a disproportionate public impact, in part because they destroy social capital. As we neglect social capital in risk assessments, we are taking excessive risks.

Journal Reference:

  1. Dirk Helbing. Globally networked risks and how to respondNature, 2013; 497 (7447): 51 DOI:10.1038/nature12047

Extreme Political Attitudes May Stem from an Illusion of Understanding (Science Daily)

Apr. 29, 2013 — Having to explain how a political policy works leads people to express less extreme attitudes toward the policy, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research suggests that people may hold extreme policy positions because they are under an illusion of understanding — attempting to explain the nuts and bolts of how a policy works forces them to acknowledge that they don’t know as much about the policy as they initially thought.

Psychological scientist Philip Fernbach of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder and his co-authors were interested in exploring some of the factors that could contribute to what they see as increasing political polarization in the United States.

“We wanted to know how it’s possible that people can maintain such strong positions on issues that are so complex — such as macroeconomics, health care, foreign relations — and yet seem to be so ill-informed about those issues,” says Fernbach.

Drawing on previous research on the illusion of understanding, Fernbach and colleagues speculated that one reason for the apparent paradox may be that voters think they understand how policies work better than they actually do.

In their first study, the researchers asked participants taking an online survey to rate how well they understood six political policies, including raising the retirement age for Social Security, instituting a national flat tax, and implementing merit-based pay for teachers. The participants were randomly assigned to explain two of the policies and then asked to re-rate how well they understood the policies.

As the researchers predicted, people reported lower understanding of all six policies after they had to explain them, and their positions on the policies were less extreme. In fact, the data showed that the more people’s understanding decreased, the more uncertain they were about the position, and the less extreme their position was in the end.

The act of explaining also affected participants’ behavior. People who initially held a strong position softened their position after having to explain it, making them less likely to donate bonus money to a related organization when they were given the opportunity to do so.

Importantly, the results affected people along the whole political spectrum, from self-identified Democrats to Republicans to Independents.

According to the researchers, these findings shed light on a psychological process that may help people to open the lines of communication in the context of a heated debate or negotiation.

“This research is important because political polarization is hard to combat,” says Fernbach. “There are many psychological processes that act to create greater extremism and polarization, but this is a rare case where asking people to attempt to explain makes them back off their extreme positions.”

In addition to Fernbach, co-authors include Todd Rogers of the Harvard Kennedy School; Craig R. Fox of the University of California, Los Angeles; and Steven A. Sloman of Brown University.

Journal Reference:

  1. P. M. Fernbach, T. Rogers, C. R. Fox, S. A. Sloman.Political Extremism Is Supported by an Illusion of UnderstandingPsychological Science, 2013; DOI:10.1177/0956797612464058

Violência no futebol argentino, setembro de 2012

FUERA DE JUEGO | FUERA DE JUEGO

Se dieron con todo

10.09.12 Con Libia todavía recuperándose de una guerra civil, su partido contra Algeria por las eliminatorias africanas rumbo a Brasil 2012, fue mudado a la ciudad de Casablanca en Marruecos para evitar hechos de violencia, debido a la rivalidad deportiva,…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

A las piñas por subir

10.09.12 La violencia en el fútbol argentino no entiende de categorías ni de provincias. Esta vez se vivió un lamentable episodio en Corrientes. Se jugaba la final por el ascenso a la primera división de la liga local entre Villa Raquel y La Amistad, en el…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

“El club no tiene nada que ver con estos delincuentes”

10.09.12 “No tenemos nada que ver con esos delincuentes. El club no tiene ninguna responsabilidad en las disputas que puedan tener estos delincuentes…” Clarita fue Florencia Arietto, flamante jefa de seguridad de Independiente, en diálogo con la agencia…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Una cosa de Loquillos

10.09.12 La violencia continúa en Avellaneda. El Mundo Independiente no tiene paz. En un confuso episodio ocurrido en las inmediaciones del Libertadores de América después del 1-1 ante Quilmes, César Loquillo Rodríguez y dos barras más –a quienes se les…

_OLEBEAM | EL OLEBEAM

También juegan su carrera

10.09.12 Es un momento bi- sagra del arbitraje argentino. Se está yendo una generación muy enviciada y entra otra con incentivos muy rápidos: unos compiten por ir al Mundial (Loustau, Pitana y quizá Delfino empujan detrás del devaluado Abal) y otros por las…

RUNNING | COMPETENCIA

Una maratón contra la violencia

09.09.12 Con el objetivo de reunir a la familia en una actividad deportiva, inclusiva y distendida, el sábado 15 de septiembre se correrá en Córdoba la cuarta edición de la Maratón por la No Violencia. Habrá una distancia competitiva de cinco kilómetros y a…

ASCENSO | ASCENSO

“Me van a sacar con los pies para adelante”

09.09.12 La verdad que no entiendo nada. El campeonato pasado cuando llegamos el equipo estaba complicado con el descenso y logramos zafar de todo. Ahora estamos punteros, haciendo una gran campaña y hay gente que va a la cancha a insultar y a hacer…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Vuelven a casa

09.09.12 La nueva Jefatura de Seguridad del Rojo retiró a 18 personas que estaban incluidas en el derecho de admisión. Ellas son: Emiliano Angulo, Federico Calegari, Pablo Ostinelli, Gabriel Rueda, Juan Lima, Juan Hernández, Gabriela Fernández, Rodrigo…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Desviados

09.09.12 La Policía de Rafaela montó un operativo especial para evitar que en el regreso a Buenos Aires los hinchas de All Boys se cruzaran con los de Chicago, que jugaba a las 18.10 ante Central en Rosario. Así, entonces, la gente del Albo se vio obligada a…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Ustedes no entran

09.09.12 Estudiantes aplicó un nuevo listado del derecho de admisión donde puso a 119 presuntos barrabravas. Y el control en la puerta funcionó bien: siete de los que estaban apuntados intentaron ingresar pero los funcionarios de la Agencia de Prevención…

ESTUDIANTES | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Vos no entrás

08.09.12

PRIMERA B | PRIMERA B

Tiempos distintos

08.09.12 Para encontrar el último enfrentamiento previo al de hoy entre Chacarita y Morón en San Martín hay que remontarse a fines de los 90. Y aquel día, el 8/12/98, es recordado por serios incidentes entre las hinchadas, que hicieron suspender el partido…

ESTUDIANTES | ESTUDIANTES

“No vamos a favorecer a los violentos”

07.09.12 Definitivamente, Estudiantes no quiere inconvenientes con la barra brava. El Pincha ya sufrió muchos conflictos, y por eso su dirigencia tomó cartas en el asunto. Ahora, le entregó a la Aprevide (Agencia de Prevención de Violencia en el Deporte) una…

FUERA DE JUEGO | ARGENTINA – PARAGUAY (20.10 HS.)

HUArda que vuelven

07.09.12 Parecía que el movimiento se desinflaba. Sin el apoyo kirchnerista que había nacido al calor de Marcelo Mallo, habiendo perdido el sustento opositor que los bancó durante la Copa América, la ONG barra Hinchadas Unidas Argentinas parecía estar en…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

“Los barras son delincuentes, y no negocio con delincuentes”

06.09.12 A las mujeres bonitas y con carácter indomable, se las caracteriza como muñecas bravas. Florencia Arietto da el prototipo. Abogada de facciones finas, camina hace años las villas de Buenos Aires defendiendo a los chicos en estado de vulnerabilidad y…

_VOZ Y VOTO

“Le damos 200 entradas a cada bando, eso nos aconsejan…”

06.09.12 Alejandro Lipara, Gerenciador de Deportivo Merlo El día después del testimonio de la madre de los hermanos Salazar, que se disputan el poder de la barra de Merlo, habló uno de los gerenciadores del club: “Antes del torneo se habían reunido para, …

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Es de terror

05.09.12 Un capítulo más en esta carnal relación entre la delincuencia y el fútbol. En un operativo antinarcóticos, la Delegación Drogas Ilícitas San Martín realizó un allanamiento donde detuvo a Diego Chuky Pulistsk, jefe de la barra brava de Chacarita, y a…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

“Esto no termina hasta que uno de mis hijos mate al otro”

05.09.12 El remís avanza rápido por las calles de tierra que circundan el Parque San Martín. Todos saben dónde vive María Inés Díaz, la madre de los Salazar, los hermanos que se embarcaron en una lucha fraticida por quedarse con la barra de Deportivo Merlo….

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

“Caio es la manzana podrida”

05.09.12 Dante llega rengueando. No es por una lesión en un picado de quien fuera puntero izquierdo del Charro en los 90. La renguera tiene otro motivo: el balazo que asegura le pegó su hermano Caio para que deje la barra. Pero Dante dice que ninguna bala lo…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

“A Dante lo perdió la droga”

05.09.12 A Carlos Salazar le dicen Caio. Una deformación de su nombre que viene desde los tiempos en que era chico y se le hacía difícil pronunciar la erre mientras jugaba con sus hermanos. Pero eso pasó hace mucho. Ahora juega a la guerra por la tribuna de…

FUERA DE JUEGO | FUERA DE JUEGO

Roja a la violencia

03.09.12 Todos fueron árbitros por un segundo. Y todos se ganaron el aplauso… Este fin de semana, en el fútbol argentino, hubo una movida más que interesante en la previa de buena parte de los juegos. Antes del saludo cordial entre los planteles, hubo…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

El All Boys Horror Show

02.09.12 Un viernes de terror vivió Emmanuel Perea. En un principio llamó la atención que el volante de All Boys no estuviera en el partido con Unión en Floresta. Ayer salió a la luz la trama de espanto: en la previa, mientras viajaba en micro hacia la…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Libertad para los detenidos

01.09.12 Ya no quedan detenidos por el enfrentamiento de la barra del último sábado, que dejó varios heridos, entre ellos Mauro Martín, quien todavía continúa internado. El juez Eduardo Filocco dictaminó ayer la libertad de los siete barras que estaban…

FÚTBOL | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Y se suma otro barra

31.08.12 La Cámara confirmó el procesamiento de Hernán García por la apretada a Pezzotta, por lo que quedó al borde del juicio oral. Al Melli lo agarraron en una causa donde se investigaba un prostíbulo. Ahí hubo una escucha donde contaba haber participado…

SAN LORENZO | SAN LORENZO

Con urnas y dientes

31.08.12 Las preguntas 1)      ¿Cómo van a hacerle frente al pasivo? 2)      ¿Cuál es el proyecto para el fútbol profesional? 3)      ¿Cómo evalúan el trabajo de Caruso? 4)      ¿Cuál es el proyecto del fútbol juvenil? 5)      ¿Cómo van a encarar la…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Devolveme lo mío

31.08.12 El miércoles, mientras veía cómo Boca quedaba afuera de la Copa, Mauro Martín volaba de bronca en la clínica Santa Isabel. Aún cuando su gente puso una bandera gigante con la leyenda “La barra de Mauro”, sabía que eso semejaba a una aspirina para un…

FUERA DE JUEGO | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Invitados a la fiesta

30.08.12 Los micros fueron arribando de a poco. Una hora antes del partido, aparecieron las combis. Ahí viajaban las banderas. El operativo policial, como si hubiese llegado Moisés al Mar Rojo, se abrió de par en par para permitir que llegaran hasta la…

_FRANCOTIRADOR

Lucha de clases en la cancha

30.08.12 El grupo de seguidores de Mauro Martín dio otra demostración de poder, exhibiendo tremenda bandera con la leyenda “La barra de Mauro”, además de gozar de un ingreso sin restricción y por conductos especiales, lejos de los molinetes para los…

_OLEBEAM

Lucha de clases en la cancha

29.08.12 El grupo de seguidores de Mauro Martín dio otra demostración de poder, exhibiendo tremenda bandera con la leyenda “La barra de Mauro”, además de gozar de un ingreso sin restricción y por conductos especiales, lejos de los molinetes para los hinchas…

BOCA | BASTA DE VIOLENCIA

Contame otro cuento

29.08.12 Vi luz y subí. O podría haber sido “entré porque había una oferta interesante”. Con excusas de esa naturaleza, los siete detenidos por la guerra de la autopista buscaron despegarse de la causa que lleva el juez de San Lorenzo, Eduardo Fi

 

INDEPENDIENTE | VIOLENCIA EN EL FUTBOL / CONFUSO ENFRENTAMIENTO VINCULADO A LA HINCHADA DE INDEPENDIENTE

Sigue grave el jefe de la barra de Independiente

11/09/12 | En Independiente, el Infierno late. Pero no porque el promedio lo muestre como el peor de los 20 equipos de Primera. La circunstancia es más grave: la violencia lo habita incluso aunque haga todo lo posible por evitarlo. El domingo, el equipo que…

Imagen

INDEPENDIENTE | VIOLENCIA EN EL FUTBOL

“No quiero que el club sea un campo de batalla”

11/09/12 | El de Javier Cantero es un caso curioso dentro del fútbol argentino: a pesar de las circunstancias adversas se anima a confrontar, por ejemplo, con la barra. Por ello, escucha aplausos y adhesiones. Pero los malos resultados de su Independiente le…

INDEPENDIENTE | VIOLENCIA EN EL FUTBOL / CONFUSO ENFRENTAMIENTO VINCULADO A LA HINCHADA DE INDEPENDIENTE

Sigue grave el jefe de la barra de Independiente

11/09/12 | En Independiente, el Infierno late. Pero no porque el promedio lo muestre como el peor de los 20 equipos de Primera. La circunstancia es más grave: la violencia lo habita incluso aunque haga todo lo posible por evitarlo. El domingo, el equipo que…

Imagen

INDEPENDIENTE | VIOLENCIA EN EL FUTBOL

“No quiero que el club sea un campo de batalla”

11/09/12 | El de Javier Cantero es un caso curioso dentro del fútbol argentino: a pesar de las circunstancias adversas se anima a confrontar, por ejemplo, con la barra. Por ello, escucha aplausos y adhesiones. Pero los malos resultados de su Independiente le…

DEPORTES

Florencia Arietto, encargada de la seguridad de Independiente, le confirmó a Clarín que Loquillo no ingresó al estadio.

10/09/12 |

DEPORTES | INDEPENDIENTE

El nuevo jefe de la barra está muy grave tras ser baleado

10/09/12 | El nuevo jefe de la barra brava de Independiente, César “Loquillo” Rodríguez, está muy grave en el Hospital Fiorito tras haber sido baleado anoche, luego del empate entre Independiente y Quilmes, en Avellaneda. “El estado es muy crítico por la…

DEPORTES | TORNEO INICIAL

Estudiantes y Vélez, cero en todo

08/09/12 | Estudiantes y Vélez igualaron sin goles en La Plata. Vélez, que terminó con un hombre menos por expulsión de Juan Ignacio Sills, desperdició la chance de llegar, al menos transitoriamente, a la punta. Poco y nada le dieron ambos equipos a los…

DEPORTES | JUEGOS PARALIMPICOS

“Me tuve que hacer grande a los golpes”

06/09/12 |

Video

DEPORTES | VIOLENCIA EN EL FÚTBOL

Estremecedor relato de una madre desesperada

05/09/12 | María Inés Díaz le brindó una entrevisa al diario deportivo Olé y allí contó su cruel realidad. La que tiene como protagonistas a dos de sus siete hijos: Caio y Dante Salazar, los hermanos que mantienen una guerra por el control de la barra de…

Imagen

DEPORTES | VIOLENCIA EN EL FUTBOL

Un hincha de Argentinos sufrió una paliza de 17 de All Boys

05/09/12 | Una historia difícil de creer pero que se convirtió en un nuevo episodio de la violencia que encierra al fútbol argentino. Un hombre que caminaba por la calle el martes a la noche tuvo la mala fortuna de llevar puesta la camiseta de Argentinos, la…

DEPORTES | ELIMINATORIAS SUDAMERICANAS

Habrá derecho de admisión en el Kempes

04/09/12 | Después de un silencio que preocupó a las autoridades del gobierno provincial porque “no queremos que nadie nos arruine la fiesta -apuntaron-”, desde la Liga Cordobesa de Fútbol, su titular, Emeterio Farías, le confirmó en exclusiva a  Clarín.com…

DEPORTES | RECIBE A SAN MARTÍN DE SAN JUAN. QUILMES ANTE ARGENTINOS

Racing apuesta a la recuperación urgente

03/09/12 | Racing va por la reivindicación. Otra vez en su estadio, ante su gente, después de quedar afuera de la Copa Sudamericana a manos de Colón. Recibe a San Martín de San Juan (20.30, por la TV Pública), que perdió los cuatro partidos que jugó en el…

DEPORTES | TORNEO INICIAL

Tigre y San Lorenzo, un empate que no deja conforme a ninguno

02/09/12 | El 1-1 entre Tigre y San Lorenzo en Victoria no debería cerrarle demasiado a ninguno. Al local, porque sigue sin ganar en el torneo Inicial y a los de Caruso Lombardi, por sumar el cuarto partido consecutivo sin sumar de a 3. Diego Castaño abrió el…

VideoImagen

DEPORTES | PRIMERA C: PELEAS ENTRE DOS SECTORES DE LA HINCHADA DEL CLUB DEL SUR

 

Mapping the Embryonic Epigenome: How Genes Are Turned On and Off During Early Human Development (Science Daily)

May 9, 2013 — A large, multi-institutional research team involved in the NIH Epigenome Roadmap Project has published a sweeping analysis in the current issue of the journal Cell of how genes are turned on and off to direct early human development. Led by Bing Ren of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Joseph Ecker of The Salk Institute for Biological Studies and James Thomson of the Morgridge Institute for Research, the scientists also describe novel genetic phenomena likely to play a pivotal role not only in the genesis of the embryo, but that of cancer as well. Their publicly available data, the result of more than four years of experimentation and analysis, will contribute significantly to virtually every subfield of the biomedical sciences.

After an egg has been fertilized, it divides repeatedly to give rise to every cell in the human body — from the patrolling immune cell to the pulsing neuron. Each functionally distinct generation of cells subsequently differentiates itself from its predecessors in the developing embryo by expressing only a selection of its full complement of genes, while actively suppressing others. “By applying large-scale genomics technologies,” explains Bing Ren, PhD, Ludwig Institute member and a professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, “we could explore how genes across the genome are turned on and off as embryonic cells and their descendant lineages choose their fates, determining which parts of the body they would generate.”

One way cells regulate their genes is by DNA methylation, in which a molecule known as a methyl group is tacked onto cytosine — one of the four DNA bases that write the genetic code. Another is through scores of unique chemical modifications to proteins known as histones, which form the scaffolding around which DNA winds in the nucleus of the cell. One such silencing modification, called H3K27me3, involves the highly specific addition of three methyl groups to a type of histone named H3. “People have generally not thought of these two ‘epigenetic’ modifications as being very different in terms of their function,” says Ren.

The current study puts an end to that notion. The researchers found in their analysis of those modifications across the genome — referred to, collectively, as the epigenome — that master genes that govern the regulation of early embryonic development tend largely to be switched off by H3K27me3 histone methylation. Meanwhile, those that orchestrate the later stages of cellular differentiation, when cells become increasingly committed to specific functions, are primarily silenced by DNA methylation.

“You can sort of glean the logic of animal development in this difference,” says Ren. “Histone methylation is relatively easy to reverse. But reversing DNA methylation is a complex process, one that requires more resources and is much more likely to result in potentially deleterious mutations. So it makes sense that histone methylation is largely used to silence master genes that may be needed at multiple points during development, while DNA methylation is mostly used to switch off genes at later stages, when cells have already been tailored to specific functions, and those genes are less likely to be needed again.”

The researchers also found that the human genome is peppered with more than 1,200 large regions that are consistently devoid of DNA methylation throughout development. It turns out that many of the genes considered master regulators of development are located in these regions, which the researchers call DNA methylation valleys (DMVs). Further, the team found that the DMVs are abnormally methylated in colon cancer cells. While it has long been known that aberrant DNA methylation plays an important role in various cancers, these results suggest that changes to the cell’s DNA methylation machinery itself may be a major step in the evolution of tumors.

Further, the researchers catalogued the regulation of DNA sequences known as enhancers, which, when activated, boost the expression of genes. They identified more than 103,000 possible enhancers and charted their activation and silencing in six cell types. Researchers will in all likelihood continue to sift through the data generated by this study for years to come, putting the epigenetic phenomena into biological context to investigate a variety of cellular functions and diseases.

“These data are going to be very useful to the scientific community in understanding the logic of early human development,” says Ren. “But I think our main contribution is the creation of a major information resource for biomedical research. Many complex diseases have their roots in early human development.”

Laboratories led by Michael Zhang, at the University of Texas, Dallas, and Wei Wang, at the University of California, La Jolla, contributed extensively to the computational analysis of data generated by the epigenetic mapping.

Journal Reference:

  1. Wei Xie, Matthew D. Schultz, Ryan Lister, Zhonggang Hou, Nisha Rajagopal, Pradipta Ray, John W. Whitaker, Shulan Tian, R. David Hawkins, Danny Leung, Hongbo Yang, Tao Wang, Ah Young Lee, Scott A. Swanson, Jiuchun Zhang, Yun Zhu, Audrey Kim, Joseph R. Nery, Mark A. Urich, Samantha Kuan, Chia-an Yen, Sarit Klugman, Pengzhi Yu, Kran Suknuntha, Nicholas E. Propson, Huaming Chen, Lee E. Edsall, Ulrich Wagner, Yan Li, Zhen Ye, Ashwinikumar Kulkarni, Zhenyu Xuan, Wen-Yu Chung, Neil C. Chi, Jessica E. Antosiewicz-Bourget, Igor Slukvin, Ron Stewart, Michael Q. Zhang, Wei Wang, James A. Thomson, Joseph R. Ecker, Bing Ren. Epigenomic Analysis of Multilineage Differentiation of Human Embryonic Stem CellsCell, 2013; DOI:10.1016/j.cell.2013.04.022

Oded Grajew: O que é (e o que não é) sustentabilidade (Folha de S.Paulo)

07/05/2013 – 03h30

Por Oded Grajew

Embora em voga, o conceito de sustentabilidade ainda é pouco compreendido tanto por quem fala sobre ele quanto por quem o ouve.

Nos últimos anos, intensificou-se a discussão a respeito do aquecimento global e do esgotamento dos recursos naturais. São preocupações legítimas e inquestionáveis, mas que geraram distorção no significado de sustentabilidade, restringindo-o às questões ambientais.

Não é só isso. A sustentabilidade está diretamente associada aos processos que podem se manter e melhorar ao longo do tempo. A insustentabilidade comanda processos que se esgotam. E isso depende não apenas das questões ambientais. São igualmente fundamentais os aspectos sociais, econômicos, políticos e culturais.

A sustentabilidade e a insustentabilidade se tornam claras quando traduzidas em situações práticas.

Esgotar recursos naturais não é sustentável. Reciclar e evitar desperdícios é sustentável.

Corrupção é insustentável. Ética é sustentável. Violência é insustentável. Paz é sustentável.

Desigualdade é insustentável. Justiça social é sustentável. Baixos indicadores educacionais são insustentáveis. Educação de qualidade para todos é sustentável.

Ditadura e autoritarismo são insustentáveis. Democracia é sustentável. Trabalho escravo e desemprego são insustentáveis. Trabalho decente para todos é sustentável.

Poluição é insustentável. Ar e águas limpos são sustentáveis. Encher as cidades de carros é insustentável. Transporte coletivo e de bicicletas é sustentável.

Solidariedade é sustentável. Individualismo é insustentável.

Cidade comandada pela especulação imobiliária é insustentável. Cidade planejada para que cada habitante tenha moradia digna, trabalho, serviços e equipamentos públicos por perto é sustentável.

Sociedade que maltrata crianças, idosos e deficientes não é sustentável. Sociedade que cuida de todos é sustentável.

Dados científicos mostram que o atual modelo de desenvolvimento é insustentável e ameaça a sobrevivência inclusive da espécie humana.

Provas não faltam. Destruímos quase a metade das grandes florestas do planeta, que são os pulmões do mundo. Liberamos imensa quantidade de dióxido de carbono e outros gases causadores de efeito estufa, num ciclo de aquecimento global e instabilidades climáticas.

Temos solapado a fertilidade do solo e sua capacidade de sustentar a vida: 65% da terra cultivada foram perdidos e 15% estão em processo de desertificação.

Cerca de 50 mil espécies de plantas e animais desaparecem todos os anos e, em sua maior parte, em decorrência de atividades humanas.

Produzimos uma sociedade planetária escandalosa e crescentemente desigual: 1.195 bilionários valem, juntos, US$ 4,4 trilhões –ou seja, quase o dobro da renda anual dos 50% mais pobres. O 1% de mais ricos da humanidade recebe o mesmo que os 57% mais pobres.

Os gastos militares anuais passam de US$ 1,5 trilhão, o equivalente a 66% da renda anual dos 50% mais pobres.

Esse cenário pouco animador mostra a necessidade de um modelo de desenvolvimento sustentável. Cabe a nós torná-lo possível.

ODED GRAJEW, 68, empresário, é coordenador da secretaria executiva da Rede Nossa São Paulo e presidente emérito do Instituto Ethos. É idealizador do Fórum Social Mundial

Conservation without supervision: Peruvian community group creates and patrols its own protected area (Mongabay)

By:Jenny R. Isaacs

April 30, 2013

“Rural dwellers are not passive respondents to external conservation agents but are active proponents and executers of their own conservation initiatives.”—Noga Shanee, Projects Director forNeotropical Primate Conservation (NPC), in an interview with mongabay.com.

When we think of conservation areas, many of us think of iconic National Parks overseen by uniformed government employees or wilderness areas purchased and run from afar by big-donor organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, or Conservation International. But what happens to ecosystems and wildlife in areas where there’s a total lack of government presence and no money coming in for its protection? This is the story of one rural Peruvian community that took conservation matters into their own hands, with a little help from a dedicated pair of primate researchers, in order to protect a high biodiversity cloud forest.

On the 22nd of November, 2012, the Peruvian Andes village of Líbano celebrated the launch of the Hocicón Reserve, formed under an innovative conservation model in accordance with federal law which allows for local administration of lands by community organizations (in this case the Rondas Campesinas). The new reserve protects an area of tropical Andean cloud forest in one of the most diverse biomes on earth, home to many endangered and unique species including the endemic Andean night monkey (Aotus miconax), the Endangered white-bellied spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth), jaguars, tapirs and many more. Hocicón, a 505.9 hectare protected area, is on the border of the Amazonas and San Martin regions—two of the most densely populated rural regions in Peru with some of the highest deforestation rates in the country. The rural population in these regions—Campesinos or ‘peasant farmers’—are predominantly of mixed indigenous and European origin and, like the native wildlife, are also endangered, by land insecurity and degraded natural resources.

Noga and Sam Shanee have helped provide technical assistance to the creation of the Hocicón reserve. Ronda leader, Marcos Díaz Delgado, was instrumental in the reserve's creation. Photo courtesy of NPC.
Noga and Sam Shanee have helped provide technical assistance to the creation of the Hocicón reserve. Ronda leader, Marcos Díaz Delgado, was instrumental in the reserve’s creation. Photo courtesy of NPC.

Noga Shanee and her husband Sam, of the organizationNeotropical Primate Conservation (NPC), work primarily in Peru to support the connection between communities and conservation. They live most of each year not far from the Hocicón reserve they helped to create. “We created NPC as a result of our experience as conservation practitioners and the need we felt to finding efficient solutions to the grave situation in which we found the yellow tailed woolly monkey and its habitat,” Noga told mongabay.com.

The Shanees’ work in primate conservation brought them in close contact with local residents, where it became clear that protection of nature might best be achieved by supporting grassroots community efforts. In the last few years, they have administratively assisted in registering seven conservation areas with the local and national governments before helping to establish the Hocicón reserve under the Ronda Campesina group in Libano. Through NPC they offer Libano residents technical support (GPS equipment, GIS mapping, basic biological assessment and the writing of a basic report), advice on quantifying the ecological importance of the area, and help with legal matters.

Such assistance is necessary because according to governmental demands for conservation projects “local initiators have to execute plans of economic activities and reserve maintenance involving factors which many rural campesinos don’t have the capacity and/or resources to undertake,” writes Noga Shanee in a forthcoming article, which details their fieldwork and the many obstacles that prohibit local community groups from establishing official protected areas. “The main restrictions found to Campesino conservation initiatives was a lack of access to support from governmental and non-governmental institutions and a lack of access to economic resources for the extended bureaucratic processes of registering these protected areas.”

The Andean night monkey (Aotus miconax) is endemic to Peruvian forests which are being protected not by the government or big NGOs, but local communities. Photo by: Andrew Walmsley/NPC.
The Andean night monkey (Aotus miconax) is endemic to Peruvian forests which are being protected not by the government or big NGOs, but local communities. Photo by: Andrew Walmsley/NPC.

Noga Shanee says that the bigger problem is disconnect between the state’s expressed desire for conservation and the overly restrictive process of providing for it.

“The Peruvian state presents itself as an enthusiastic promoter of conservation and public participation in environmental issues, taking pride in legislation that allows private and community conservation,” she notes. “However, our experience shows us that the process of legally registering privately run conservation areas is extremely complicated, expensive and slow, requiring teams of specialists and cost on average $20,000 US dollars, just up to the initial registration of the area. After completing this arduous process, the government does not provide any support for the conservation initiators; on the contrary, they require additional reports and economic investments. Therefore, this process is inaccessible to most of the rural population creating inequality and losing opportunities for local participation and conservation efficiency…most local people are unable to create their own reserves and need the help of NGOs. The creation of these reserves including the elaboration of the proposal and waiting for registration takes from 1.5 to 5 years. During this time the land is not legally protected and other land uses are possible which in some cases has led to conflicts.”

One effect of this long, and expensive process is the exclusion of non-experts, small groups, and those lacking connections to government officials or influential NGOs in the process of establishing reserves.

“Although it is perceived locally that broad inter-institutional cooperation would be the best way towards effective regional conservation, cooperation is rare, mainly due to competitiveness related to economic pressures,” Shanee writes.

Launching community reserves from the ground up has proven to be a great way to overcome these bureaucratic obstacles while combating a myriad of threats to both animals and local people.

Ronderos voting to create Hocicón Reserve. Photo by: Noga Shanee.
Ronderos voting to create Hocicón Reserve. Photo by: Noga Shanee.

“The area suffers from high levels of deforestation fueled by immigration, road construction, extractive industries, hydroelectric dams, cattle ranching and lately a boom of palm oil plantations. The Ronda Campesina [community group, which launched the reserve,] has been protesting for many years against this development model (aggressively promoted by the government) which is so destructive to natural habitats and to rural societies,” Noga Shanee, told mongabay.com.

Such threats are caused by a number of actors, according to Shanee, including the federal government, international corporations, and even the rural campesinos [farmers] themselves.

“Severe economic and social pressures are found to force campesinos into unsustainable practices,” writes Noga Shanee, in a recently submitted paper.

Clown tree frog (Dendropsophus sarayacuensis) in the region. Nestor Allgas Marchena/NPC.
Clown tree frog (Dendropsophus sarayacuensis) in the region. Nestor Allgas Marchena/NPC.

In her PhD Thesis on the subject written for Kent University in the UK, Noga Shanee summarized that “current conservation efforts are far from sufficient to offset the mounting threats they face,” adding “an amalgam of contradicting agendas, power struggles, superficial-spectacular solutions, and prejudices towards rural populations hinder the efficiency of conservation interventions” as “the immense pressures impacting human populations transforms directly into environmentally degrading processes.”

The Hocicón conservation model is not your typical conservation solution to these problems. In contrast to uniformed park officials greeting visitors or teams of well-paid foreign biologists in the field monitoring wildlife populations, these reserves are organic extensions of the community—policed and patrolled by the local residents themselves; such projects bring, according to Shanee, “a sense of pride and inclusion to the rural people who implement them.”

The Rondas enjoy distinctive legal rights within Peruvian society because of long-standing traditional land claims by indigenous peoples in combination with large areas of territory devoid of governmental or NGO supervision.

“The areas we are working and living in (departments of Amazonas and San Martin in Northern Peru) are almost completely abandoned by the government and would be in complete anarchy if it wasn’t for the Rondas…The Ronda Campesina (Peasant Patrol) is a network of autonomous, civil organizations, aimed at self-protection,” Shanee explains. “They practice vigilance and civil justice in the rural Peruvian countryside where state control is insufficient.”

The royal sunangel (Heliangelus regalis) is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Photo by: Sachar Alterman/NPC.
The royal sunangel (Heliangelus regalis) is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Photo by: Sachar Alterman/NPC.

Ronda bases can be organized by any population (community, town, or village). Nationally, the Ronda has more than half a million active members, in more than 5,000 bases, mainly, but not only, in Northern Peru and solves about 180,000 civil justice cases per year. Rondas also protest against external environmental hazards, such as polluting mining operations. According to Noga Shanee’s thesis, “by criticism and setting examples, the Rondas pressure both the government and NGOs to act more efficiently and morally towards conservation.”

Sam Shanee, also of NPC, says Ronda self-government is purely for protective purposes. “The ronda is basically a neighborhood watch group in most villages (I myself am a ‘rondero’ in the village where we live). All that this new approach entails in its most basic form is a group of villagers (or the entire village) getting together a deciding to protect an area of forest or other natural habitat near where they live… there has been no use of force for the creation of this first ARCA and the Ronda is not really a militia organization except when necessary, for example in the face of terrorism, drug cartels, illegal mining/logging etc.”

White-bellied spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth). Photo by: Shachar Alterman.
White-bellied spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth). Photo by: Shachar Alterman.

In the absence of top-down support or supervision, the Rondas offer their own path to conservation. The Ronda-run Conservation Areas, known as ARCAs, are quick, extremely low-cost, and are uniquely tailored to the Ronda social structure, allowing for participation of local people in conservation efforts, according to the Shanees.

Marcos Díaz Delgado, a national Ronda leader, told mongabay.com that “The [Ronda-run Conservation Areas (ARCAs)] are an alternative to the state’s legal conservation system which is extremely slow, expensive and fails to reach many remote, rural parts of our country. As a special jurisdiction we don’t only defend our safety and our human rights, but we also defend the natural world inside our territories. We invite the state authorities and all social organizations to join us for the collective defense of our natural resources.”

The ARCAs were designed to streamline the process of establishing protected areas: because of the Rondas special legal status, they only necessitate the minimal process (mapping and basic biological info), and cost almost nothing. Therefore “the Ronda Campesina’s conservation initiatives are an honest and efficient answer to habitat and species loss in Peru as well as to the deficiencies of mainstream, non participative conservation,” Noga Shanee says, adding that while this project is a collaboration between NPC and the Ronda, “we are hoping that they will become more and more self sufficient with time…our help is trying to organize, augment and formalize this initiative”. Orin Starn, Chair and Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, and author of the book Night Watch, the Politics of Protest in the Andes, told mongabay.com that, “the Rondas are the largest, most influential grassroots movement in Peru’s northern mountains. Environmentalism is a relatively new development to this area, and it’ll be very interesting to see the directions that this new collaboration between an old peasant movement and the new NGO-driven green activism may take.”

Noga Shanee (in pink) with community members. Photo courtesy of NPC.
Noga Shanee (in pink) with community members. Photo courtesy of NPC.

The Shanees’ work in the Amazon continues to illustrate the close biocultural connection between nature and community. Noga sees this connection as a positive force for change when strengthened. In her thesis she writes that destructive pressures on local communities and forests “also create positive consequences by creating new conservation opportunities.” By turning local environmental and social crisis into opportunity, new collaborations and conservation without supervision, born of necessity, can emerge, offering real hope for biocultural diversity.

“All over the world there are small groups of local farmers and indigenous people that organize themselves in order to protect their neighboring forests,” Noga Shanee says. “These initiatives are rarely heard about as these people often lack resources and expertise to promote their successes through academic or popular publications.” But she adds that she hopes the Hocicón model will become increasingly common in Peru and even spread abroad.

“This initiative can inspire other grassroots organizations to organize themselves to administer conservation, which could benefit many different species and habitats around the world. “

She believes that community-run conservation will prosper, saying, “we might be naïve and of course this project can fail, but our work in Peru has shown us that local communities put huge efforts in conserving their forests, usually with no help from mainstream conservationists and sometimes even despite them. We believe that they deserve the chance.”

Cloud forest in Northeastern Peru. Photo by: Andrew Walmsley/NPC.
Cloud forest in Northeastern Peru. Photo by: Andrew Walmsley/NPC.

Noga in front in purple with community leaders. Photo courtesy of NPC.
Noga in front in purple with community leaders. Photo courtesy of NPC.

White-fronted spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth). Photo by: Shachar Alterman.
White-fronted spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth). Photo by: Shachar Alterman.

CITATIONS:

Shanee N (2012) The Dynamics of Threats and Conservation Efforts for the Tropical Andes Hotspot in Amazonas and San Martin, Peru. PhD Thesis (Kent University, Canterbury). Supervised by Prof. Stuart R. Harrop.

Shanee, Noga, Sam Shanee, and Robert H. Horwich (2012 in revision). “Locally run conservation initiatives in northeastern Peru and their effectiveness as conservation methods,” shared by permission of the authors

Starn O (1999) Nightwatch: the politics of protest in the Andes (Duke Univ Pr, Los Angeles) p 329.

Chapin, M. (2004) A Challenge to Conservationists. World Watch, 17, 17-31

Sobrevila, Claudia. (2008) “The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation; The Natural but Often Forgotten Partners” World Bank Report.

Read more athttp://news.mongabay.com/2013/0430-isaacs-rondas.html#LcSylhiLfpBJhPkz.99

Megaport (POPSCI)

The robot-staffed, windmill-powered Dutch port poised to become the most efficient cargo handler ever.

By Andrew Rosenblum; Posted 04.26.2013 at 2:20 pm

The Most Efficient Cargo HandlerThe Most Efficient Cargo Handler:  Courtesy Port of Rotterdam; Inset A: Courtesy APM Terminals; Inset B: Paul Wootton; Inset C: Courtesy APM Terminals; Inset D: Courtesy Port of Rotterdam

Business is booming at Europe’s largest port, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, which sees the lion’s share of the continent’s imports and exports. About 34,000 ships and 12 million shipping containers—each large enough to hold 27 refrigerators, 175 bicycles, or 2,500 pairs of jeans—already pass through it each year. But that’s nothing compared with the 32 million containers it will handle by 2035. With no land for expansion, the Port of Rotterdam Authority has approved a $4-billion project to turn four square miles of 66-foot-deep ocean into dry ground for what will likely become the most advanced port in the world, Maasvlakte 2. The new facility will include automated container-moving vehicles powered by 13-ton batteries in place of diesel and a harbor so deep it will accommodate superships that haven’t even been built yet. So far, dredging boats have vacuumed up more than seven billion cubic feet of sand from the ocean to fill in the new site, which will open its first terminal next year. When the entire port is finished, in 2035, it will see enough containers each month to circle half the Earth.

FASTER

Modern terminals move no more than 30 containers an hour. At Maasvlakte 2, automated equipment will blow past that rate and improve overall efficiency by up to 50 percent. People will control ship-to-shore cranes [A] remotely from an office. Then, automated ground vehicles [B] will grab a container or two and navigate by following transponders in the pavement. Rather than wait in line for a crane to unload its cargo, the vehicles will unload themselves with built-in hydraulic lifts. And instead of polluting and noisy diesel engines, they will run on rechargeable, 13-ton lead-acid batteries. After an eight-hour shift, the vehicles will enter a robotic battery-exchange station [C] to swap for a fresh one.

DEEPER

The world’s largest container ship, the CMA CGM Marco Polo, is larger than an aircraft carrier, and superships [D] of the future will be even bigger. That’s because the more goods crammed onto a vessel, the cheaper the shipping cost per ton. The 16,000-container Marco Polo requires a port at least 53 feet deep. Berths at Maasvlakte 2 will be six feet deeper than that, appropriate for ships that carry 18,000 containers or more.

GREENER

If the world’s shipping industry were a country, its carbon footprint would be the sixth largest. But this port is pushing for electric container-moving vehicles, cleaner engines on water and land, and harbored ships that use electric shoreside power. The port authority plans to shift goods onto more efficient rail [E] and inland ships to cut container-truck traffic by 25 percent by 2030. Electricity will probably come from windmills and two 1,100-megawatt coal and biomass electric plants that will capture most of their carbon dioxide. The port authority has also launched a large-scale carbon-capture and storage demo program to put 1.2 million tons of CO2 a year in exhausted undersea oilfields.

MORE FLOODPROOF

Manmade beaches and dunes, held in place by wind-resistant marram grass, form a soft seawall [F] on the port’s south and west edges. To protect the northwest side from stronger storms, engineers completed a more expensive hard seawall [G]: sand covered by stone, topped off by 19,558 44-ton concrete blocks—likely the largest concrete blocks in all of Europe. Computer modeling suggests the seawall could withstand waters 18 feet above sea level.

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Popular Science.

Lord of All I Survey (Slate)

By 

Posted Thursday, May 2, 2013, at 10:30 AM

Science and religion

How much do you know about science and religion?. Illustration by Shutterstock/ollyy

Last week, a couple of online surveys came to my attention. Both were from the Pew Research Center (a non-profit, respected group); one was about public knowledge ofscience, the other about religion.

If you haven’t taken them, they are very short (13 and 15 questions each) and will literally only take a couple of minutes for you to fill out—they don’t ask for any specific personal info, and the questions are very simply stated. So please, go take them both before you continue reading here.

<sound of “Jeopardy!” theme>

OK, all done? How did you do?

Bragging time: I got all the answers right, on both quizzes. But, apropos of a test on religion, I have a confession: I guessed on the last religion question; I’m not all that clear on the First Great Awakening (though I knew it wasn’t Billy Graham, so my odds went up to 50/50 for my guess).

I found the questions and results interesting. I’ll note the religious test was given out in 2010 (32 questions were used in the phone survey; only 15 are listed online), but I didn’t find the questions particularly dated.

Not surprisingly, I was pretty confident in the science test, and knew my answers were right. I was shakier on some of the religious questions; I have a broad knowledge of many religions, but specifics not so much. Still, I did well.

Also not surprisingly, Americans didn’t fare so well in the science test (maybe we should make members of Congress pass both tests before being allowed to sit on the House Science Committee). But more interesting is which questions were answered incorrectly, and by what percentage; Pew reports the results.

For example, only 20 percent of the respondents were correct in answering that nitrogen is the most abundant element in our atmosphere (over three times more abundant than oxygen, which I’d guess is what most people think makes up the majority of our air). I think people should know that, in that I think people should have a broad working knowledge of basic science and its principles. On the other hand, it’s not criticallyimportant that people know that. It won’t directly impact their lives, for example.

On the other hand, only 58 percent knew that carbon dioxide causes rising temperatures. Global warming is a fantastically important issue, even if you think (incorrectly) it’s not real. Either way, it’s a big political topic, and one our economy (and our very lives) depends on. Yet 42 percent of Americans don’t know the single most basic fact about it.

That’s terrifying.

What I found most fascinating, though, are the percentiles of the overall surveys; that is, how many people got how many correct total. By getting all the science questions right, I did better than 93 percent of the people surveyed (only 7 percent got all 13 questions right). By getting all the religion questions right, I did better than 99 percent of the people surveyed (only 1 percent got them all right).

Mind you, only a few thousand people were surveyed, there was probably no overlap between the two groups, and it’s a small number of questions. Still, this implies something interesting: people know less about religion than science!

I’m not sure how strong an inference to take here. How do you compare the two questions? After all, most Americans are supposed to get a basic science education, but I expect it’s extremely unlikely that most will get a firm basic knowledge of religions other than their own (and sometimes not even then). I’d even bet there’s a bias against it, in fact.

So I wouldn’t read too much into this. It’s just interesting. I suspect the real impact of this survey is personal. What did you get right? What did you get wrong? How important is the distinction to you?

I think there’s always room for more learning, and if these surveys spur that on, even a little bit, then that’s a pretty good thing.

European carbon market in trouble (Washington Post)

By Published: May 5

LONDON — As the centerpiece of Europe’s pledge to lead the global battle against climate change, the region’s market for carbon emissions effectively turned pollution into a commodity that could be traded like gold or oil. But the once-thriving pollution trade here has turned into a carbon bust.Under the system, 31 nations slapped emission limits on more than 11,000 companies and issued carbon credits that could be traded by firms to meet their new pollution caps. More efficient ones could sell excess carbon credits, while less efficient ones were compelled to buy more. By August 2008, the price for carbon emission credits had soared above $40 per ton — high enough to become an added incentive for some companies to increase their use of cleaner fuels, upgrade equipment and take other steps to reduce carbon footprints.

Europe's carbon-trading market

Europe’s carbon-trading market

That system, however, is in deep trouble. A drastic drop in industrial activity has sharply reduced the need for companies to buy emission rights, causing a gradual fall in the price of carbon allowances since the region slipped into a multi-year economic crisis in the latter half of 2008. In recent weeks, however, the price has appeared to have entirely collapsed — falling below $4 as bickering European nations failed to agree on measures to shore up the program.The collapsing price of carbon in Europe is darkening the outlook for a greener future in a part of the world that was long the bright spot in the struggle against climate change. It is also presenting new challenges for those who once saw Europe’s program as the natural anchor for what would eventually be a linked network of cap-and-trade systems worldwide.

Carbon “started as the commodity of the future, but it has now deteriorated,” said Matthew Gray, a trader at Jefferies Bache in London and one of a diminishing breed of carbon dealers in Europe. “Its future is uncertain.”

The problems plaguing Europe’s cap-and-trade system underscore the uphill battle for international cooperation in the global-warming fight. After middling progress at various summits, officials from more than 190 countries have been charged with forging a global accord by 2015 aimed at cutting carbon emissions. But critics point to the inability of even the European Union — a largely progressive region bound by open borders and a shared bureaucracy — to come together on a fix for its cap-and-trade system as evidence of how difficult consensus building on climate change has become.

Negotiations to launch a similar system across the United States collapsed in 2010, replaced with a regional approach in which California, for instance, moved forward with its own program. Aided by a boom in cheaper and cleaner shale gas as well as the spread of more renewable energies, including wind and solar, the United States has — like Europe — nevertheless seen a continuing drop in its overall emission levels.

But there are also signs that years of increasing investment in clean energies are ebbing on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2012, overall clean-energy investment in the United States fell 37 percent,to $35.6 billion, compared with a year earlier, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. European countries, including green leaders such as Germany, also saw declines, leading analysts to call the problems with the region’s cap-and-trade system that much more troubling.

“Obviously, what’s happening now is very disheartening for people who have been involved in trying to cut carbon emissions,” said Agustin Silvani, managing director of carbon finance at Conservation International in Arlington, Va. “The European system was at the center of the global fight, and the fact that it is collapsing is definitely a blow. Maybe a moral one more than anything else.”Lost incentive

The cap-and-trade program is based on a system of carbon allowances for large emitters such as utilities and manufacturers, with some bought and others awarded for free. Companies are allowed to draw on global mitigation projects — such as planting trees in tropical rain forests — to offset a small portion of their emissions. But for the most part, they must meet targets through carbon credits issued by European authorities.A number of other factors, including mandates and subsidies for renewable energy, have coaxed European companies to reduce their emissions in recent years. But in the early stages of the cap-and-trade program, “higher carbon prices were a big incentive for companies to take action,” said Marcus Ferdinand, senior market analyst for Thomson Reuters Point Carbon. “Now, they’ve lost that incentive.”

At the core of the problem is a massive oversupply of carbon allowances. Demand for carbon began to fade in the late 2000s as a recession set in and factories across Europe dramatically curbed production. But there were also built-in flaws. Unlike newer cap-and-trade programs such as the one in California, Europe’s system never established a price floor that could have prevented a market collapse. In addition, too many free allowances were given to too many companies. Some, in fact, never had to pay for allowances at all, allowing them to hoard them or even sell their carbon credits at a profit.

On April 16, the European Parliament was on the verge of temporarily tightening the supply of allowances to boost the price of carbon and shore up the ailing market. But opposition by countries led by Poland — a nation strongly dependent on heavy-emitting coal power plants — defeated the measure. The rejection sent the price of carbon plummeting to a historic low of roughly $3.60.

Shoring up prices

A bright future for cap-and-trade systems may yet exist. Promising new programs, for instance, are being rolled out in California, Australia, Quebec and a few provinces in China, with officials in some areas setting a minimum price for carbon credits to prevent the kind of market collapse seen in Europe.

But if Europe is unable to shore up the price for carbon credits here, observers say, it could complicate hopes down the line of linking various programs together. The price per ton in California, for instance, is above $10 — about two and half times the price in Europe.

Large emitters such as the steel industry, however, say the system is working just fine. With a price determined by supply and demand, industry groups say, it is only fitting for the price to be low now. Also, given the region’s weaker economic activity, they note that the European Union is still virtually assured of meeting its pledge to cut carbon emissions — a reduction of 20 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels — even with the cap-and-trade system faltering.

Yet critics argue that the low price of carbon has removed the incentive for European companies to reduce their carbon footprints. They point to a boom in the use of cheap imported American coal in European power plants. In addition, many fear that the lack of an incentive to make more green upgrades will create a boom in emissions if and when European economies recover.

As the regional plan falters, some countries are going it alone on domestic initiatives. This year, for instance, Britain introduced a carbon tax on emissions that British manufacturers say has put them at a competitive disadvantage with their counterparts on the continent. It suggests the potential pitfalls ahead as countries and even smaller jurisdictions such as states, provinces and cities introduce a disparate patchwork of climate-change measures.

Optimists point to hope that the European Parliament will once again vote on a measure to tighten the supply of carbon credits in the coming months, thus shoring up the price. They also note that the European Commission is studying more ambitious proposals for a bigger overhaul of the region’s cap-and-trade system.

But given the growing resistance in some European countries to anything that might drive energy costs up further, others wonder whether Europe’s leaders still have the political will to take aggressive action.

“We’re risking the credibility of European politicians by not fixing this system,” said Johannes Teyssen, chief executive of German energy giant E.ON. “How can they travel to world climate-change conferences claiming others should do more when our own system is on its deathbed and they do nothing?”

Eliza Mackintosh contributed to this report.

*   *   *

In Europe, Paid Permits for Pollution Are Fizzling (N.Y.Times)

Andrew Testa for The International Herald Tribune. The trading floor at CF Partners in West London. The market for carbon permits is more volatile than its founders envisioned.

By STANLEY REED and MARK SCOTT

Published: April 21, 2013

LONDON — On a showery afternoon last week in West London, a ripple of enthusiasm went through the trading floor of CF Partners, a privately owned financial company. The price of carbon allowances, shown in green lights on a board hanging from the ceiling, was creeping up toward three euros.

*The Emissions Trading System began with a test phase that ended in 2007. Note: Data are for the futures contract expiring in mid-December each year. Phase 2 price was initially for the December 2008 futures contract.

That is pretty small change — $3.90, or only about 10 percent of what the price was in 2008. But to the traders it came as a relief after the market had gone into free fall to record lows two days earlier, after the European Parliament spurned an effort to shore up prices by shrinking the number of allowances.

“The market still stands,” said Thomas Rassmuson, a native of Sweden who founded the company with Jonathan Navon, a Briton, in 2006.

Still, Europe’s carbon market, a pioneering effort to use markets to regulate greenhouse gases, is having a hard time staying upright. This year has been stomach-churning for the people who make their living in the arcane world of trading emissions permits. The most recent volatility comes on top of years of uncertainty during which prices have fluctuated from $40 to nearly zero for the right to emit one ton of carbon dioxide.

More important, though, than lost jobs and diminished payouts for traders and bankers, the penny ante price of carbon credits means the market is not doing its job: pushing polluters to reduce carbon emissions, which most climate scientists believe contribute to global warming.

The market for these credits, officially called European Union Allowances, or E.U.A.’s, has been both unstable and under sharp downward pressure this year because of a huge oversupply and a stream of bad political and economic news. On April 16, for instance, after the European Parliament voted down the proposed reduction in the number of credits, prices dropped about 50 percent, to 2.63 euros from nearly 5, in 10 minutes.

“No one was going to buy” on the way down, said Fred Payne, a trader with CF Partners.

Europe’s troubled experience with carbon trading has also discouraged efforts to establish large-scale carbon trading systems in other countries, including the United States, although California and a group of Northeastern states have set up smaller regional markets.

Traders do not mind big price swings in any market — in fact, they can make a lot of money if they play them right.

But over time, the declining prices for the credits have sapped the European market of value, legitimacy and liquidity — the ease with which the allowances can be traded — making it less attractive for financial professionals.

A few years ago, analysts thought world carbon markets were heading for the $2 trillion mark by the end of this decade.

Today, the reality looks much more modest. Total trading last year was 62 billion euros, down from 96 billion in 2011, according to Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, a market research firm based in Oslo. Close to 90 percent of that activity was in Europe, while North American trading represented less than 1 percent of worldwide market value.

Financial institutions that had rushed to increase staff have shrunk their carbon desks. Companies have also laid off other professionals who helped set up greenhouse gas reduction projects in developing countries like China and India.

When the emissions trading system was started in 2005, the goal was to create a global model for raising the costs of emitting greenhouse gases and for prodding industrial polluters to switch from burning fossil fuels to using clean-energy alternatives like wind and solar.

When carbon prices hit their highs of more than 30 euros in 2008 and companies spent billions to invest in renewables, policy makers hailed the market as a success. But then prices began to fall. And at current levels, they are far too low to change companies’ behaviors, analysts say. Emitting a ton of carbon dioxide costs about the same as a hamburger.

“At the moment, the carbon price does not give any signal for investment,” said Hans Bünting, chief executive of RWE, one of the largest utilities in Germany and Europe.

This cap-and-trade system in Europe places a ceiling on emissions. At the end of each year, companies like electric utilities or steel manufacturers must hand over to the national authorities the permits equivalent to the amount gases emitted.

Until the end of 2012, these credits were given to companies free according to their estimated output of greenhouse gases. Policy makers wanted to jump-start the trading market and avoid higher costs for consumers.

Beginning this year, energy companies must buy an increasing proportion of their credits in national auctions. Industrial companies like steel plants will follow later this decade.

Companies and other financial players like banks and hedge funds can also acquire and trade the allowances on exchanges like the IntercontinentalExchange, based in Atlanta. Over time the number of credits is meant to fall gradually, theoretically raising prices and cutting pollution.

The reality has been far different because of serious flaws in the design of the system. To win over companies and skeptical countries like Poland, which burn a lot of coal, far too many credits have been handed out.

At the same time, Europe’s debilitating economic slowdown has sharply curtailed industrial activity and reduced the Continent’s overall carbon emissions.

Steel making in Europe, for instance, has fallen about 30 percent since 2007, while new car registrations were at their lowest level last year since 1995.

Big investments in renewable energy sources like wind and solar also reduced carbon emissions, which have fallen about 10 percent in Europe since 2007.

As a result, there is a vast surplus of permits — about 800 million tons’ worth, according to Point Carbon. That has caused prices to plunge.

The cost of carbon is far too low to force electric utilities in Europe to switch from burning coal, a major polluter, to much cleaner natural gas. Just the opposite: Britain increased coal burning for electricity more than 30 percent last year, while cutting back gas use a similar amount, and other West European nations increased their coal use as well.

“The European energy scene is not a good one,” said Andrew Brown, head of exploration and production at Royal Dutch Shell. “They haven’t got the right balance in terms of promoting gas.”

Fearing that prices might go to zero because of the huge oversupply, the European authorities proposed a short-term solution known as backloading, which would have delayed the scheduled auctioning of a large portion of the credits that were supposed to be sold over the next three years. But the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted the measure down on April 16.

Lawmakers were worried about tampering with the market as well as doing anything that might increase energy costs in the struggling economy.

“It was the worst possible moment to try to implement something like that,” said Francesco Starace, chief executive of Enel Green Power, one of the largest European green-energy companies, which is based in Rome.

The European authorities, led by Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate change, have not given up on fixing the system. But analysts like Stig Scholset, at Point Carbon, say that there is not much the authorities can do in the short term and that prices may slump for months, if not years.

That means more tough times for financial institutions. Particularly troubled is the business of investing in greenhouse gas abatement projects like wind farms orhydroelectric dams in developing countries like China. JPMorgan Chase paid more than $200 million for one of the largest investors in these projects, EcoSecurities, in 2009.

Financiers say these projects used to be gold mines, generating credits that industrial companies could use to offset their emissions elsewhere. But so many credits have been produced by these projects — on top of the existing oversupply of credits in Europe — that they are trading at about a third of a euro.

Market participants say they see many rivals pulling back from world carbon markets. Deutsche Bank, the largest bank in Germany, has cut back its carbon trading. Smaller outfits like Mabanaft, based in Rotterdam, have also left the business.

Anthony Hobley, a lawyer in London and president of the Climate Market and Investors Association, an industry group, estimates that among the traders, analysts and bankers who flocked to the carbon markets in the early days, half may now be gone.

But carbon trading is unlikely to fade completely.

For one thing, European utilities and other companies now must buy the credits to comply with the rules. And they can buy credits to save for later use, when their emissions increase and the price of credits rises.

Despite Europe’s sputters, carbon trading is beginning to gain traction in places like China, Australia and New Zealand.

In London, Mr. Rassmuson concedes that the business has turned out to be more up-and-down than he anticipated when he and his partner set up their firm in a tiny two-man office in 2006.

But he said his firm was benefiting from others’ dropping out. He is also branching out into trading electric power and natural gas.

Like many in the carbon markets, he says what he is doing is not just about money.

“Trying to make the world more sustainable is important to us,” he said. “It is a good business opportunity that makes us proud.”

A version of this article appeared in print on April 22, 2013, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Europe, Paid Permits For Pollution Are Fizzling.

Before Babel? Ancient Mother Tongue Reconstructed (Live Science)

Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer

06 May 2013, 03:00 PM ET

an old oil painting of the Tower of Babel.The idea of a universal human language goes back at least to the Bible, in which humanity spoke a common tongue, but were punished with mutual unintelligibility after trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way to heaven. Now scientists have reconstructed words from such a language. CREDIT: Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) 

The ancestors of people from across Europe and Asia may have spoken a common language about 15,000 years ago, new research suggests.

Now, researchers have reconstructed words, such as “mother,” “to pull” and “man,” which would have been spoken by ancient hunter-gatherers, possibly in an area such as the Caucusus. The word list, detailed today (May 6) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help researchers retrace the history of ancient migrations and contacts between prehistoric cultures.

“We can trace echoes of language back 15,000 years to a time that corresponds to about the end of the last ice age,” said study co-author Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

Tower of Babel

The idea of a universal human language goes back at least to the Bible, in which humanity spoke a common tongue, but were punished with mutual unintelligibility after trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way to heaven. [Image Gallery: Ancient Middle-Eastern Texts]

But not all linguists believe in a single common origin of language, and trying to reconstruct that language seemed impossible. Most researchers thought they could only trace a language’s roots back 3,000 to 4,000 years. (Even so, researchers recently said they had traced the roots of a common mother tongue to many Eurasian languages back 8,000 to 9,500 years to Anatolia, a southwestern Asian peninsula that is now part of Turkey.)

Pagel, however, wondered whether language evolution proceeds much like biological evolution. If so, the most critical words, such as the frequently used words that define our social relationships, would change much more slowly.

To find out if he could uncover those ancient words, Pagel and his colleagues in a previous study tracked how quickly words changed in modern languages. They identified the most stable words. They also mapped out how different modern languages were related.

They then reconstructed ancient words based on the frequency at which certain sounds tend to change in different languages — for instance, p’s and f’s often change over time in many languages, as in the change from “pater” in Latin to the more recent term “father” in English.

The researchers could predict what 23 words, including “I,” “ye,” “mother,” “male,” “fire,” “hand” and “to hear” might sound like in an ancestral language dating to 15,000 years ago.

In other words, if modern-day humans could somehow encounter their Stone Age ancestors, they could say one or two very simple statements and make themselves understood, Pagel said.

Limitations of tracing language

Unfortunately, this language technique may have reached its limits in terms of how far back in history it can go.

“It’s going to be very difficult to go much beyond that, even these slowly evolving words are starting to run out of steam,” Pagel told LiveScience.

The study raises the possibility that researchers could combine linguistic data with archaeology and anthropology “to tell the story of human prehistory,” for instance by recreating ancient migrations and contacts between people, said William Croft, a comparative linguist at the University of New Mexico, who was not involved in the study.

“That has been held back because most linguists say you can only go so far back in time,” Croft said. “So this is an intriguing suggestion that you can go further back in time.”

David Graeber’s “The Democracy Project” and the anarchist revival (New Yorker)

A CRITIC AT LARGE

PAINT BOMBS

BY , MAY 13, 2013

Occupy resisted those who wanted to stop it and those who wanted to organize it. Illustration by Shout.

Occupy resisted those who wanted to stop it and those who wanted to organize it. Illustration by Shout.

In the summer of 2011, when David Graeber heard rumors of a mobilization against Wall Street, he was hopeful but wary. Graeber is an anthropologist by trade, and a radical by inclination, which means that he spends a lot of time at political demonstrations, scrutinizing other demonstrators. When he wandered down to Bowling Green, in the financial district, on August 2nd, he noticed a few people who appeared to be the leaders, equipped with signs and megaphones. It seemed that they were affiliated with the Workers World Party, a socialist group known for stringent pronouncements that hark back to the Cold War—a recent article in the W.W.P. newspaper hailed the “steadfast determination” of North Korea and its leaders. As far as Graeber was concerned, W.W.P. organizers and others like them could doom the new movement, turning away potential allies with their discredited ideology and their unimaginative tactics. Perhaps they would deliver a handful of speeches and lead a bedraggled march, culminating in the presentation of a list of demands. Names and e-mail addresses would be collected, and then, a few weeks or months later, everyone would regroup and do it again.

Graeber refers to march planners and other organizers as “verticals,” and to him this is an insult: it refers not just to defenders of Kim Jong-un but to anyone who thinks a political uprising needs parties or leaders. He is a “horizontal,” which is to say, an anarchist. He is fifty-two, but he has made common cause with a generation of activists too young to have any interest in the Cold War, or anything associated with it. And, as he listened to speeches in Bowling Green, he realized that many of the people there seemed to be horizontals, too. Working with some like-minded activists, on the opposite side of the park, Graeber helped to convene a general assembly—an open-ended meeting, with no agenda and a commitment to consensus.Adbusters, a Canadian magazine, had called for an occupation of Wall Street on September 17th, which was six weeks away; that afternoon, in Bowling Green, a few dozen horizontals decided to see what they could do to respond.

When the day came, Graeber and his allies had to fend off two different enemies: the people who wanted to stop the occupation and the people who wanted to organize it. Occupy Wall Street succeeded, and survived, in its original location—Zuccotti Park, halfway between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site—for nearly two months, much longer than anyone predicted. It inspired similar occupations around the country, creating a model for radical politics in the Obama era. And it became known, more than anything, for its commitment to horizontalism: no parties, no leaders, no demands.

Inevitably, this triumph of horizontalism increased the prominence of a handful of horizontals, none more than Graeber, who has emerged as perhaps the most influential radical political thinker of the moment. His American academic career has been rocky: he was an associate professor at Yale but was never up for tenure, and in 2005 the university decided not to extend his contract. (He now suggests that he was insufficiently deferential to Yale’s “hierarchical environment.”) By the summer of 2011, he was teaching anthropology at Goldsmiths College, in London, while building a growing reputation in anarchist circles worldwide. His books tend to end up as pirated PDF files, freely available on left-wing Web sites.

A few weeks before the rally in Bowling Green, Graeber published “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” a provocative counter-history of civilization that has become an unlikely best-seller. He argued that the current American anxiety about debt, private and public, is merely the latest manifestation of an ancient obsession. He sought to show that debt preëxisted money: people owed things to each other before they had a way to measure the size of those obligations. In one of his most memorable passages, he considered the differing roles of debt in a market society (where we “don’t owe each other anything,” except what we agree to) and in a nation-state (where we all owe an insurmountable debt to the government, whether we agree or not). He called this dichotomy “a great trap of the twentieth century”—a false choice between the freedom of a consumer and the obligations of a citizen. “States created markets,” he wrote. “Markets require states. Neither could continue without the other, at least in anything like the forms we would recognize today.” This is the essence of Graeber’s ideology, and to a large extent the essence of Occupy: a commitment to fighting the twinned powers of private wealth and public force. He has proposed a grand debt cancellation, to remind the world that a debt is merely a promise—that is, a plan, and one that can be changed.

By the time the New York Police Department reclaimed Zuccotti Park, in November, the evictees were already trying to figure out whether the occupation had been a success, and what “success” might mean. In the past year, this debate has been taken up in a series of essays and books rehearsing the little indignities and big ideas that characterized life in Zuccotti Park and other sites of occupation. Now comes Graeber himself, with “The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement” (Spiegel & Grau). Like all revolutionaries, he is skilled in the art of wild extrapolation, starting from a small band of dissidents and imagining a world transformed. He doesn’t believe that a better future is inevitable. But like lots of people, not all of them radical or even political, he does believe that the current arrangement is unstable, and that we may as well start thinking about what might come next.

“We are the ninety-nine per cent!” That was the rallying cry in Zuccotti Park, and beyond, although there is some debate about exactly which member of the “we” came up with it. In his book, Graeber stakes a partial claim, quoting an e-mail he sent to a group list on August 4, 2011, in which he proposed calling the occupation the Ninety-Nine Per Cent Movement. The figure had been popularized by the economist Joseph Stiglitz, who estimated that the richest one per cent of Americans earn nearly twenty-five per cent of the income and control forty per cent of the wealth. “The ninety-nine per cent,” then, is everybody else. It was a great slogan, because it linked the people in the parks to the people watching at home, suggesting a kind of class struggle that even class-averse Americans could support.

What’s striking about this formulation, though, is what’s missing: any explicit reference to the one per cent. It was a self-reflexive slogan for a self-reflexive movement, one that came to be known more for its internal politics than for its critique of the outside world. Perhaps no one could say exactly what the Zuccotti Park occupation wanted, but lots of people knew how it worked. There was “the people’s mic,” an ingenious system of public address: short speeches were delivered one phrase at a time, with each phrase repeated, in unison, by whoever happened to be standing nearby. And there was a small lexicon of hand signals, which Occupiers could use to respond with approval, or disapproval, or extreme disapproval—the crossed-fists “block,” which could bring any discussion to a halt.

In “We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation” (AK Press), a deftly edited anthology, a wide range of Occupiers and sympathizers look back on those days in 2011. One New York participant recalls the nerve-racking moment when she helped block the adoption of an official declaration, because she felt that the language downplayed the importance of race, gender, and other kinds of identity. Marisa Holmes, a New York activist, describes how the occupation’s horizontal structure—composed of semi-autonomous working groups, free-form discussions, and a spokescouncil—worked, for a time, and then disintegrated. Graeber describes the encampments as “a defiant experiment in libertarian communism,” but the subtext of “We Are Many” is that this experiment was more inspiring as an ideal: the most enthusiastic essays tend to come from people, like Graeber, who spent little or no time actually living in the parks.

Is it fair to describe the Occupy movement as anarchist? In “We Are Many,” Cindy Milstein, a longtime activist, stipulates that radicals in Zuccotti Park were outnumbered by liberals, including those she deprecates as “militant liberals.” But she argues that, even if the Occupiers weren’t all anarchists, they were nevertheless “doing anarchism.” In Zuccotti Park and elsewhere, “doing anarchism” often meant struggling not against bankers, directly, but against local government and local police. (In New York, one galvanizing figure was Anthony Bologna, a senior police officer who was disciplined after video surfaced showing him squirting protesters with pepper spray.) Perhaps this was a smart strategy: instead of arguing about economics and ideology, the Occupiers could affirm, instead, their unanimous commitment to freedom of assembly. Occupy may have begun with a grievance against Wall Street, but the process of occupation transformed the movement into a meta-movement, peopled by activists demanding the right to demand their rights.

Karl Marx agreed with the anarchists of his day that the state should be destroyed. But he disagreed about when. He was convinced that the state would become obsolete only after the working class had taken it over, thereby destroying the class system. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the French philosopher who popularized the term “anarchist,” thought that the idea of a revolutionary government was a contradiction in terms. “Governments are God’s scourge, established todiscipline the world,” he wrote. “Do you really expect them to destroy themselves, to create freedom, to make revolution?” Mikhail Bakunin, the prickly Russian agitator, sneered at Marx’s idea of a workers’ state. “As soon as they become rulers or representatives of the people,” he wrote, they “will cease to be workers and will begin to look upon the whole workers’ world from the heights of the state.” In 1872, at a meeting in The Hague, Marx helped to expel Bakunin from the International Workingmen’s Association, formalizing a division that seemed no less stark, nearly a century and a half later, when the horizontals broke from the verticals on an August afternoon in Bowling Green.

In delivering his brief for anarchism, Graeber asks readers to take into account the movement’s history of good behavior. “For nearly a century now,” he writes, “anarchism has been one of the very few political philosophies whose exponents never blow anyone up.” This is a sly way of acknowledging that, a hundred years ago, anarchists had a rather different reputation. On May 4, 1886, in Haymarket Square, in Chicago, police tried to halt a demonstration by striking workers, and someone in the crowd threw a bomb, which killed at least ten people, including seven police officers. Chicago had become a hub of anarchist politics, and although the bomber was never identified, eight anarchists were convicted of being accessories to murder. In Europe, anarchists carried out a series of spectacular attacks, including the assassinations of one President (French), two kings (Italian and Greek), and three Prime Ministers (Spanish, Russian, and Spanish again). In the U.S., anarchism’s reputation was sealed for a generation by Leon Czolgosz, who killed President William McKinley, in 1901; he had evidently been inspired by Emma Goldman, the prominent anarchist rabble-rouser.

Over the years, though, anarchists’ ferocious reputation has mellowed. The Occupy movement borrowed some of its organizing tactics from the egalitarian groups that formed, in the nineteen-seventies, to try to stop the construction of nuclear power plants. And the rise of punk helped give anarchism a new image: “Anarchy in the U.K.,” by the Sex Pistols, was an ambiguous provocation; other bands, like Crass, used “anarchy” to signal their commitment to a bundle of emancipatory causes, and their independence from the socialist organizations that dominated the British left. The connection to punk lent anarchism a countercultural credibility, and in 1999, when tens of thousands of activists materialized in Seattle, intent on shutting down a World Trade Organization conference, raucous young anarchists were out in front; at one point, they smashed the window of a Starbucks. The smashed window became an icon of resistance, and the chaos in the streets of Seattle galvanized a mobilization, known as the Global Justice movement.

Twelve years later, not all of Occupy’s supporters were happy to see anarchists playing a starring role. In a contentious essay titled, “The Cancer in Occupy,” Chris Hedges called for a clean break. Hedges is a former Times reporter turned socialist author and activist, and he published his essay on the progressive Web site Truthdig, a few months after the Zuccotti eviction. His main target was the “black bloc” phenomenon, in which activists—often anarchists—dress in black clothes, with black handkerchiefs obscuring their faces, the better to cause mischief anonymously. Hedges accused black blocs of a “lust” for destruction, which he described as a sickness. “Once the Occupy movement is painted as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob we are finished,” he wrote.

In a deeply indignant response to Hedges, Graeber pointed out that black-bloc actions had been rare in the Occupy movement. Much of Hedges’s concern seemed to arise from a single incident in Oakland, when a black bloc smashed bank windows and vandalized a Whole Foods. Like many anarchists, Graeber doesn’t think property damage is violence. And he believes that so-called “mobs” have their uses—in 2001, in Quebec City, he was part of a black bloc that succeeded in toppling a chain-link fence meant to separate activists from the free-trade meeting they wanted to disrupt. He supports “diversity of tactics,” an approach that urges different kinds of activists to stay physically separate (so as not to endanger each other) but politically united. Above all, Graeber rejects what he calls “the peace police”: activists who try to control other activists’ behavior, sometimes in collaboration with the real police. His tolerance for confrontational protest stems in part from his disinclination to empower anyone to stop it.

Graeber is more worried about the charge that modern anarchists are feckless, so he is keen to give anarchists credit for changing the world. He claims that the Global Justice movement weakened the W.T.O. and scuttled the Free Trade Area of the Americas pact, which was the topic of those discussions in Quebec City. And he credits the Occupy movement with preventing Mitt Romney from becoming President. (He underestimates Romney’s own, invaluable contributions to this cause.) Graeber is pleased, too, to underscore the links between Occupy and other popular movements around the world, from the Egyptian uprising to the ongoing demonstrations of the Indignados, in Spain. He sees a global “insurrectionary wave,” united less by a shared ideology than by a shared opposition to an increasingly global social arrangement.

The rehabilitation of anarchism in America has a lot to do with the fall of the Soviet Union, which lives on in popular memory as a quaint and brutal place—an embarrassing precursor that modern, pro-democracy socialists must find ways to disavow. Graeber sees “authoritarian socialists” not as distant relatives but as longtime enemies; channelling Bakunin, he claims that the Marxist intention to smash the state by seizing it first is a “pipe dream.” For anarchists, the major historical precursors are so fleeting as to be nearly nonexistent: the Paris Commune lasted scarcely two months, in 1871; anarchists dominated Catalonia for about a year, after the Spanish revolution in 1936. The appeal of anarchism is largely negative: a promise that a different world needn’t resemble any of the ones that have been tried before.

In a new book, “Two Cheers for Anarchism” (Princeton), James C. Scott, a highly regarded professor of anthropology and political science at Yale (and, Graeber says, “one of the great political thinkers of our time”), commends anarchism precisely for its “tolerance for confusion and improvisation.” Graeber did his anthropological field work in the highlands of Madagascar, and Scott did his in Southeast Asia, but their conclusions were similar. Both of them encountered communities that lived more or less autonomously, finding ways to resist or ignore whatever governments claimed jurisdiction over them. And both are eager to expand the history of lived anarchism beyond Paris and Catalonia; it is, they argue, broader and more common than we’ve been taught.

“Two Cheers for Anarchism” conducts a brief and digressive seminar in political philosophy, starting from the perspective of a disillusioned leftist. “Virtually every major successful revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew,” Scott writes. Traditionally, this has been an argument against revolutions, but Scott wonders whether it might be an argument against states. He stops short of calling for the abolition of government, which explains the missing cheer. Instead, he highlights everyday acts of petty resistance: “foot-dragging, poaching, pilfering, dissimulation, sabotage, desertion, absenteeism, squatting, and flight.” Most of all, he urges citizens to be wary of their governments, which is good advice, but rather deflating—Scott can make anarchism sound like little more than a colorful word for critical thinking.

Graeber shares Scott’s mistrust of grand prescriptions, but he thinks that he has found an alternative: prefigurative politics, which holds that political movements resemble the worlds they seek to create. Instead of planning a new society, revolutionaries must form a new society, and then grow. A hierarchical vanguard party will never create broad equality, just as, he says, “grim joyless revolutionaries” can’t be trusted to increase human happiness. From this perspective, all those seemingly insular procedural debates in Zuccotti Park weren’t insular at all: how the movement worked would determine what it wanted. What Graeber wants is a kind of decentralized socialism, with decisions made by a patchwork of local assemblies and coöperatives—at one point, he imagines “something vaguely like jury duty, except non-compulsory.” He argues that serious economic inequality wouldn’t endure without a state to enforce it. “We are already anarchists, or at least we act like anarchists, every time we come to understandings with one another that would not require physical threats as a means of enforcement,” he writes. “It’s a question of building on what we are already doing, expanding the zones of freedom, until freedom becomes the ultimate organizing principle.”

Graeber is comfortable—perhaps too comfortable—with uncertainty. “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse,” he writes, which seems an odd admission for a deeply committed unfetterer. (If we don’t know much about this “free” world, how do we know it won’t be, in some ways, just as coercive?) Graeber talks about the way a new society would expand people’s options, but he has acknowledged that a truly anarchist revolution would mean less production, and less consumption. Humankind would be rid of “all the useless or destructive occupations like telemarketers, lawyers, prison guards, financial analysts, public relations experts, bureaucrats and politicians.” (Anthropology professors would appear to be safe.) Although Graeber likes to distance himself from his grim and joyless rivals, there is a trace of asceticism in his vision. Part of Graeber’s motivation for wandering down to Bowling Green, back in 2011, was his opposition to what he calls “draconian austerity budgets” proposed by Mayor Bloomberg. Graeber wants to demonize modern debt without demonizing debtors. Yet the language of economic “austerity” finds a striking analogue in his vision of a post-debt society composed of people who have learned, at long last, to live within their means.

Graeber believes that the Occupy movement wouldn’t have attracted as much attention if it hadn’t been for the Tea Party movement, a few years earlier. Reporters sensed a parallel, and they wanted, he says, to make “a minimal gesture in the way of balance.” He notes that the reporters moved on around the time it became clear that the Occupy movement, unlike the Tea Party movement, was not going to become a force in electoral politics. In fact, there is one anarchist who could be considered influential in Washington, but he wasn’t among the activists who participated in the Occupy movement—he died nearly twenty years ago. His name is Murray Rothbard, and, among small-government Republicans, he is something of a cult hero. He was Ron Paul’s intellectual mentor, which makes him the godfather of the godfather of the Tea Party. Justin Amash, a young Republican congressman from Michigan and a rising star in the Party, hangs a framed portrait of him on his office wall.

Rothbard was an anarchist, but also a capitalist. “True anarchism will be capitalism, and true capitalism will be anarchism,” he once said, and he sometimes referred to himself by means of a seven-syllable honorific: “anarcho-capitalist.” Graeber thinks that governments treat their citizens “like children,” and that, when governments disappear, people will behave differently. Anarcho-capitalists, on the contrary, believe that, without government, people will behave more or less the same: we will be just as creative or greedy or competent as we are now, only freer. Instead of imagining a world without drastic inequality, anarcho-capitalists imagine a world where people and their property are secured by private defense agencies, which are paid to keep the peace. Graeber doesn’t consider anarcho-capitalists to be true anarchists; no doubt the feeling is mutual.

The split personality of anarchism demonstrates the slippery nature of anti-government arguments, which can bring together a wide range of people who are deeply dissatisfied with the government we’ve got. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the government bailouts and loans that followed, capitalists and anticapitalists were often united in their disapproval, and, when Graeber criticizes “collusion between government and financial institutions,” he is speaking the shared language of the Tea Party and the Occupy movements. During those days in 2011, one of the politicians who expressed support for the Occupy movement was Buddy Roemer, a Republican and a former governor of Louisiana, who was waging a long-shot campaign to win his party’s Presidential nomination. “I think the Tea Party is onto something: special favors for special friends,” he said, after visiting the Washington encampment. “Hell, that’s what Occupy Washington, D.C., is saying—they’re saying the same thing.”

Despite a few attempts at outreach, Occupy and the Tea Party never found much common ground. It’s not easy for a protest movement to shrug off the logic of partisanship: the Tea Party was essentially a Republican movement, and, if the Occupiers held low opinions of the Democratic Party, it was always clear that they disdained Republicans much more. Even Graeber, for all his radicalism, still sees himself as an ally, however disaffected, of liberal Democrats in their fight against the conservative agenda. In a recent online exchange, he wrote about his frustration with the political establishment. “What reformers have to understand is that they’re never going to get anywhere without radicals and revolutionaries to betray,” he wrote, and went on:

I’ve never understood why “progressives” don’t understand this. The mainstream right understands it, that’s why they go crazy when it looks like someone might be cracking down on far-right militia groups, and so forth. They know it’s totally to their political advantage to have people even further to the right than they so they can seem moderate. If only the mainstream left acted the same way!

Despite his implacable opposition to state power, Graeber often finds himself defending the sorts of government program that liberals typically support, such as socialized medicine. There is a distinction, he argues, between state institutions based on coercion, like prisons or border control, and those which could (in a post-capitalist future) be run as voluntary collectives, like health care. Still, he is self-aware enough to be amused by all the ways in which anarchists find themselves fighting, in the short term, for causes that would seem to increase the role of government. Early in “The Democracy Project,” he describes being at a demonstration in London that protested government budget cuts and corporate tax breaks. He remembers thinking, “It feels a bit unsettling watching a bunch of anarchists in masks outside Topshop, lobbing paint bombs over a line of riot cops, shouting, ‘Pay your taxes!’ ” Then he admits that he was one of the paint bombers.

At times, Graeber can sound like one of the orthodox Marxists he lampoons, eager to see the state wither away—just not quite yet. It’s a common paradox. For years, American politicians have been promising to bring the country a smaller, more streamlined state; President Obama was obliged to present his health-care reforms as an opportunity to reduce, not increase, the federal budget. As the government expands, the calls to shrink it grow louder; even many radicals, these days, decline to be counted as proponents of big government. In a more fragile state, like Greece or Spain, anarchism often adopts an apocalyptic tone: to be an anarchist is to accept, or even to welcome, the cataclysm that all the politicians fear. But in America anarchism’s appeal surely has something to do with the seeming durability of our current arrangement, and the inexorable growth of the government that maintains it. Such is the power of a sprawling and sophisticated state: the bigger it gets, the easier it becomes for us to imagine that we could live without it. ♦

Monkey Math: Baboons Show Brain’s Ability to Understand Numbers (Science Daily)

May 3, 2013 — Opposing thumbs, expressive faces, complex social systems: it’s hard to miss the similarities between apes and humans. Now a new study with a troop of zoo baboons and lots of peanuts shows that a less obvious trait — the ability to understand numbers — also is shared by humans and their primate cousins.

Sabina, an olive baboon at the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, N.Y., participates in a University of Rochester study led by cognitive scientist Jessica Cantlon. (Credit: J. Adam Fenster, University of Rochester)

“The human capacity for complex symbolic math is clearly unique to our species,” says co-author Jessica Cantlon, assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. “But where did this numeric prowess come from? In this study we’ve shown that non-human primates also possess basic quantitative abilities. In fact, non-human primates can be as accurate at discriminating between different quantities as a human child.”

“This tells us that non-human primates have in common with humans a fundamental ability to make approximate quantity judgments,” says Cantlon. “Humans build on this talent by learning number words and developing a linguistic system of numbers, but in the absence of language and counting, complex math abilities do still exist.”

Cantlon, her research assistant Allison Barnard, postdoctoral fellow Kelly Hughes, and other colleagues at the University of Rochester and the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, N.Y., reported their findings online May 2 in the open-access journal Frontiers in Comparative Psychology. The study tracked eight olive baboons, ages 4 to 14, in 54 separate trials of guess-which-cup-has-the-most-treats. Researchers placed one to eight peanuts into each of two cups, varying the numbers in each container. The baboons received all the peanuts in the cup they chose, whether it was the cup with the most goodies or not. The baboons guessed the larger quantity roughly 75 percent of the time on easy pairs when the relative difference between the quantities was large, for example two versus seven. But when the ratios were more difficult to discriminate, say six versus seven, their accuracy fell to 55 percent.

That pattern, argue the authors, helps to resolve a standing question about how animals understand quantity. Scientists have speculated that animals may use two different systems for evaluating numbers: one based on keeping track of discrete objects — a skill known to be limited to about three items at a time — and a second approach based on comparing the approximate differences between counts.

The baboons’ choices, conclude the authors, clearly relied on this latter “more than” or “less than” cognitive approach, known as the analog system. The baboons were able to consistently discriminate pairs with numbers larger than three as long as the relative difference between the peanuts in each cup was large. Research has shown that children who have not yet learned to count also depend on such comparisons to discriminate between number groups, as do human adults when they are required to quickly estimate quantity. Studies with other animals, including birds, lemurs, chimpanzees, and even fish, have also revealed a similar ability to estimate relative quantity, but scientists have been wary of the findings because much of this research is limited to animals trained extensively in experimental procedures. The concern is that the results could reflect more about the experimenters than about the innate ability of the animals.

“We want to make sure we are not creating a ‘Clever Hans effect,'” cautions Cantlon, referring to the horse whose alleged aptitude for math was shown to rest instead on the ability to read the unintentional body language of his human trainer. To rule out such influence, the study relied on zoo baboons with no prior exposure to experimental procedures. Additionally, a control condition tested for human bias by using two experimenters — each blind to the contents of the other cup — and found that the choice patterns remained unchanged.

A final experiment tested two baboons over 130 more trials. The monkeys showed little improvement in their choice rate, indicating that learning did not play a significant role in understanding quantity.

“What’s surprising is that without any prior training, these animals have the ability to solve numerical problems,” says Cantlon. The results indicate that baboons not only use comparisons to understand numbers, but that these abilities occur naturally and in the wild, the authors conclude.

Finding a functioning baboon troop for cognitive research was serendipitous, explains study co-author Jenna Bovee, the elephant handler at the Seneca Park Zoo who is also the primary keeper for the baboons. The African monkeys are hierarchical, with an alpha male at the top of the social ladder and lots of jockeying for status among the other members of the group. Many zoos have to separate baboons that don’t get along, leaving only a handful of zoos with functioning troops, Bovee explained.

Involvement in this study and ongoing research has been enriching for the 12-member troop, she said, noting that several baboons participate in research tasks about three days a week. “They enjoy it,” she says. “We never have to force them to participate. If they don’t want to do it that day, no big deal.

“It stimulates our animals in a new way that we hadn’t thought of before,” Bovee adds. “It kind of breaks up their routine during the day, gets them thinking. It gives them time by themselves to get the attention focused on them for once. And it reduces fighting among the troop. So it’s good for everybody.”

The zoo has actually adapted some of the research techniques, like a matching game with a touch-screen computer that dispenses treats, and taken it to the orangutans. “They’re using an iPad,” she says.

She also enjoys documenting the intelligence of her charges. “A lot of people don’t realize how smart these animals are. Baboons can show you that five is more than two. That’s as accurate as a typical three year old, so you have to give them that credit.”

Cantlon extends those insights to young children: “In the same way that we underestimate the cognitive abilities of non-human animals, we sometimes underestimate the cognitive abilities of preverbal children. There are quantitative abilities that exist in children prior to formal schooling or even being able to use language.”

Other University of Rochester co-authors on the study include Regina Gerhardt, an undergraduate student in brain and cognitive sciences, and Louis DiVincenti, a veterinarian and senior instructor in comparative medicine. This research was supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

Journal Reference:
  1. Allison M. Barnard, Kelly D. Hughes, Regina R. Gerhardt, Louis DiVincenti, Jenna M. Bovee and Jessica F. Cantlon.Inherently Analog Quantity Representations in Olive Baboons (Papio anubis)Frontiers in Comparative Psychology, 2013 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00253