Arquivo da tag: Medo

Los rayos cósmicos confirman que se fundió el corazón de Fukushima (El País)

Un detector de muones muestra el interior de dos reactores accidentados en Japón

, 23 MAR 2015 – 17:04 CET

Imagen proporcionada por Tepco sobre estos trabajos de detección.

Mientras Chernóbil todavía lucha para cubrir los restos de la tragediacon un segundo sarcófago, en Fukushima aún dan los primeros pasos para controlar por completo y desmantelar los reactores accidentados en 2011, una tarea que durará unas cuatro décadas. Al margen de las interminables fugas de agua que traen de cabeza a los responsables de la central, el principal objetivo es determinar la situación exacta del combustible radiactivo que quedó fuera de control durante varios días, provocando la mayor catástrofe atómica en lustros. Ahora, gracias a los rayos cósmicos, tenemos la confirmación de que el núcleo del reactor 1 de Fukushima se fundió por completo y que también se derritió, parcialmente, el combustible del reactor 2.

Los trabajos de desmantelamiento de la central ya han costado 1.450 millones a Japón

Esas barras de uranio derretidas generan tanto peligro que no ha sido posible entrar hasta el corazón de los reactores accidentados para determinar exactamente su estado. Las mediciones indirectas indicaban que estábamos en un escenario de fusión de los núcleos pero una nueva técnica que se sirve de la física de partículas ha ayudado a radiografiar, por el momento, dos de los reactores accidentados. Se trata de un detector de muones, unas partículas elementales que surgen cuando penetran en la atmósfera los rayos cósmicos, y que llegan por miles hasta la superficie de la Tierra. Estas partículas que frenan al chocar con objetos muy densos, como el combustible nuclear, y se pueden detectar con una suerte de placas de radiografía colocadas a los lados del reactor.

Al atravesar todo el invento, los muones han mostrado que no queda nada de combustible en el corazón del reactor número 1. Es decir, mientras el núcleo estuvo sin refrigerar con agua durante el accidente, las barras de uranio se derritieron por completo, cayendo por el fondo de la vasija que las contenía. Por eso no salen en la fotografía que han conseguido los físicos de varias universidades japonesas, que han desarrollado esta técnica junto a científicos del Laboratorio de Los Álamos y la empresa Toshiba, responsable de los trabajos de desmantelamiento de Fukushima.

Como la plancha detectora de los muones se coloca a ras de suelo, la imagen que ha devuelto de este reactor solo permite saber que el combustible se fundió y ya no está en su sitio, pero no ayuda a saber cuál es su situación en el sótano del reactor o si ha comprometido por el suelo la robusta contención que separa el núcleo del exterior. Posteriormente, Tepco ha dado a conocer el resultado de este examen en el reactor 2, que ha mostrado una descomposición parcial del núcleo al comparar la imagen con la de un reactor en condiciones normales.

Los científicos no pueden saber hasta dónde ha caído el núcleo fundido del reactor

“Los resultados reafirman nuestra idea previa de que una cantidad considerable de combustible se había fundido en el interior”, explicó Hiroshi Miyano, uno de los científicos, a AFP.  “Pero no hay evidencia de que el combustible se haya derretido a través de los edificios de contención y alcanzado el exterior”. Para asegurarse, el siguiente paso será el uso de robots que se cuelen por todos los rincones de los edificios.

Hoy se ha conocido el gasto que ha supuesto hasta el momento el desmantelamiento de Fukushima para los japoneses: 1.450 millones de euros de las arcas públicas, según un informe gubernamental que recoge la agencia Kyodo. Poco más de un tercio de ese dinero se ha gastado en los esfuerzos por controlar las continuas filtraciones y fugas de agua que inundan todo el entorno de la central.

Welcome to Global Warming’s Terrifying New Era (Slate)

By Eric Holthaus

19 March 2015

466467728-in-this-handout-image-provided-by-unicef-the-storm

Storm damage in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo by UNICEF via Getty Images

On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announcedthat Earth’s global temperature for February was among the hottest ever measured. So far, 2015 is tracking above record-warm 2014—which, when combined with the newly resurgent El Niño, means we’re on pace for another hottest year in history.

In addition to the just-completed warmest winter on record globally (despite the brutal cold and record snow in the eastern U.S.), new data on Thursday from the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that this year’s peak Arctic sea ice reached its lowest ever maximum extent, thanks to “an unusual configuration of the jet stream” that greatly warmed the Pacific Ocean near Alaska.

But here’s the most upsetting news. It’s been exactly 30 years since the last time the world was briefly cooler than its 20th-century average. Every single month since February 1985 has been hotter than the long-term average—that’s 360 consecutive months.

More than just being a round number, the 30-year streak has deeper significance. In climatology, a continuous 30-year stretch of data is traditionally what’s used to define what’s “normal” for a given location. In a very real way, we can now say that for our given location—the planet Earth—global warming is now “normal.” Forget debating—our climate has officially changed.

This 30-year streak should change the way we think and talk about this issue. We’ve entered a new era in which global warming is a defining characteristic and a fundamental driver of what it means to be an inhabitant of planet Earth. We should treat it that way. For those who care about the climate, that may mean de-emphasizing statistics and science and beginning to talk more confidently about the moral implications of continuing on our current path.

Since disasters disproportionately impact the poor, climate change is increasingly an important economic and social justice issue. The pope will visit the United States later this year as part of a broader campaign by the Vatican to directly influence the outcome of this year’s global climate negotiations in Paris—recent polling data show his message may be resonating, especially with political conservatives and nonscience types. Two-thirds of Americans now believe that world leaders are morally obligated to take steps to reduce carbon.

Scientists and journalists have debated the connection between extreme weather and global warming for years, but what’s happening now is different. Since weather impacts virtually every facet of our lives (at least in a small way), and since climate change is affecting weather at every point in the globe every day (at least in a small way), that makes it at the same time incredibly difficult to study and incredibly important. Formal attribution studies that attempt to scientifically tease out whether global warming “caused” individual events are shortsighted and miss the point. It’s time for a change in tack. The better question to ask is: How do we as a civilization collectively tackle the weather extremes we already face?

In the aftermath of the nearly unprecedented power and destructive force of Cyclone Pam’s landfall in the remote Pacific island nation of Vanuatu—where survivors were forced to drink saltwater—emerges perhaps the best recent example I’ve seen of a government acknowledging this changed climate in a scientifically sound way:

Cyclone Pam is a consequence of climate change since all weather is affected by the planet’s now considerably warmer climate. The spate of extreme storms over the past decade—of which Pam is the latest—is entirely consistent in science with the hottest ever decade on record.

The statement was from the government of the Philippines, the previous country to suffer a direct strike by a Category 5 cyclone—Haiyan in 2013. As chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum negotiating bloc, the Philippines also called for a strengthening of ambition in the run-up to this year’s global climate agreement in Paris.

The cost of disasters of all types is rising around the globe as population and wealth increase and storms become more fierce. This week in Japan, 187 countries agreed on a comprehensive plan to reduce loss of life from disasters as well as their financial impact. However, the disaster deal is nonbinding and won’t provide support to the most vulnerable countries.

Combining weather statistics and photos of devastated tropical islands with discussions of political and economic winners and losers is increasingly necessary as climate change enters a new era. We’re no longer describing the problem. We’re telling the story of how humanity reacts to this new normal.

As the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, in an editorial kickoff of his newspaper’s newly heightened focus on climate, said, “the mainstream argument has moved on.” What’s coming next isn’t certain, but it’s likely to be much more visceral and real than steadily upward sloping lines on a graph.

Why Communicating About Climate Change Is so Difficult: It’s ‘The Elephant We’re All Inside of’ (Huffington Post)

Jim Pierobon

Posted: 02/05/2015 8:48 pm EST Updated: 02/05/2015 8:59 pm EST

How stakeholders communicate about climate change has long been framed by who’s doing the framing as much, or more so, than the information being communicated. So I am forever curious how various stakeholders — believers, skeptics and deniers alike — are talking about it and who, if anybody, is “moving the needle” in either direction.

One of the most salient and recent inputs to the climate communications conundrum is Don’t Even Think About It — Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change, by George Marshall in Oxford, England.

Marshall’s work deserves to be spotlighted for how it illuminates why skeptics and deniers alike will not be moved to engage in thoughtful exchanges unless those communicating respect certain tenets of what academic and nonprofit research are finding.

Marshall draws on the efforts of the climate information network (COIN) he co-founded along with research by two leading university-based centers: the Project on Climate Change Communications at Yale University in Princeton, NJ and the Center for Climate Change Communications at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

George Marshall is the co-founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, a nonprofit organization that specializes in public communication around climate change.

Marshall also taps into the works of authorities who’ve written and/or spoken extensively about climate change, such as Harvard Professor of Psychology Daniel Gilbert, GOP pollster Frank Luntz, Princeton Psychology and Public Affairs Professor Daniel Kahneman, former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Oregon Kari Norgaard and ABC-TV network correspondent Bill Blakemore.

Perhaps it would behoove those preparing for the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, aka COP21, in Paris November 30 – December 11, 2015 to heed much of what Marshall and other top-tier researchers are finding and sharing if they are serious about forging a legally binding and universal agreement on climate.

Here is my synthesis of the most illuminating take-a-ways from Marshall’s book. I offer it as a checklist with which to gauge climate communications efforts, regardless of which — if any — side of the issue you’re on. Be sure to share your thoughts.

  • Perceptions are shaped by individual psychological coping mechanisms and the collective narratives that they shape with the people around them.
  • A compelling emotional story that speaks to peoples’ core values has more impact than rational scientific data such as hotter global temperatures and rising sea levels.
  • People’s social identity has an extraordinary hold over their behaviors and views.
  • Drawing too much attention to an undesirable norm (e.g. catastrophic weather) can seriously backfire.
  • In high-carbon societies, EVERYone has a strong reason to ignore the problem or to write their own alibi. What might work better are narratives based on cooperation, mutual interests and a common humanity.
  • The real story is about our fear, denial and struggle to accept our own responsibility. “Climate change isn’t the elephant in the room; it’s the elephant we’re all inside of,” said ABC’s Bill Blakemore.
  • Our brains are UNsuited to deal with climate change unless the threats are personal, abrupt, immoral and immediate. A distant, abstract and disputed threat does not have the necessary characteristics for seriously mobilizing public opinion.
  • Without a clear deadline for action, we create our own timeline. We do so in ways that remove the compulsion to act. We make it just current enough to accept that something needs to be done but put it just too far into the future to require immediate action.

We’d all benefit the most from: what models for communicating about climate change are working, and which ones are not?

  • The messenger is more important than the message. The messenger can be the most important — but also the weakest link — between scientific information and personal conviction. Building on that, to break the partisan “deadlock” and public disinterest starts, Marshall asserts educational efforts need to create the means for new messengers to be heard.
  • There may be lessons learned from the campaign by oil giant BP in the early 2000s offering person-on-the-street testimonials about the need to deal with climate change. Full disclosure: While a Senior Vice President of Public Affairs with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide from 2001-2006, I helped develop and execute elements of BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” campaign.
  • Until the economy is back on a strong growth track, climate change advocates will struggle to earn attention in their home countries as long as bread-and-butter ‘pocketbook’ issues are more important to an overwhelming majority of citizens.

See George Marshall in action from this recent interview on TalkingStickTV via YouTube.

While we’re on the subject, I recommend reading the excellent work by the MacArthur Foundation’s “Connecting on Climate” guide completed in 2014. It includes 10 principles for effective climate change communication based on research from various social science fields.

Com chuva, Alckmin adia decisão sobre rodízio de água na Grande SP (Folha de S.Paulo)

FABRÍCIO LOBEL e GUSTAVO URIBE

DE SÃO PAULO

11/02/2015  02h00

O volume de chuvas no início de fevereiro, que já se aproxima da média para o mês, levou o governo Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) a adiar a decisão sobre a implantação de um rodízio de água na Grande SP.

Nas palavras de um assessor do governo, “a Sabesp não jogou a toalha” e, diante de um cenário com chuvas até o final de março e o avanço simultâneo de algumas obras, será até mesmo possível atravessar o período de seca, de maio a setembro, sem rodízio.

Folha teve acesso a esse “plano antirrodízio”, o mais atualizado da Sabesp, a estatal da água. Ele envolve três pontos-chaves, todos interdependentes, sendo que o primeiro nada mais é do que uma ‘torcida meteorológica’:

1) O ritmo de chuvas de fevereiro, que já superou a metade do esperado para o mês e fez aumentar a entrada de água no sistema Cantareira, tem de ao menos permanecer como está até o fim de março;

2) A ligação da represa Billings com o sistema Alto Tietê precisa ser concluída; a obra prevê 11 km de dutos entre os dois mananciais e, segundo o governo de SP, deverá ficar pronta até maio;

3) A capacidade de interligação entre sistemas terá de ser ampliada. Dessa forma, águas do Guarapiranga e do Alto Tietê, por exemplo, poderão atender moradores hoje abastecidos pelo Cantareira em áreas de Guarulhos, na Vila Maria (zona norte), Mooca (zona leste) e Brás (centro).

Editoria de arte/Folhapress

Com tudo isso, aliado principalmente à política de racionamento por meio da redução da pressão na rede de abastecimento, a Sabesp acredita que poderá manter uma vazão de no mínimo 10 mil litros de água por segundo no Cantareira ao longo de 2015, o suficiente, segundo a estatal, para evitar o início do rodízio –a vazão atual é de 14 mil l/seg.

Qualquer falha em um desses três pontos, porém, provocará a reavaliação desse planejamento. O final de fevereiro, por ora, é o prazo tratado internamente como limite para definir o rodízio.

Questionado ontem (10/02) sobre o tema, Alckmin afirmou que não existe nada definido. “É uma decisão técnica, da Sabesp, que faz o monitoramento diário”.

NOVO ÂNIMO

Até o final de janeiro, quando o volume de chuvas seguia bem abaixo da média histórica e o Cantareira caminhava para um colapso completo, o governo paulista tratava o rodízio apenas como uma questão de tempo.

Foi nesse contexto, por exemplo, que um dirigente da Sabesp falou na possibilidade de um rodízio “pesado”, com cinco dias sem água e apenas dois com na semana.

As chuvas de fevereiro não tiraram o Cantareira de uma situação crítica, mas deram uma leve trégua ao governo.

O sistema operou nesta terça (10) com 6,1% de sua capacidade, após mais uma alta. Esse percentual já inclui duas cotas do volume morto, que são as reservas de água abaixo do nível original de captação.

Para evitar um rodízio em 2015, o governo espera que o sistema chegue ao final de março entre 10% e 12% –com o solo úmido após as recentes chuvas, foram reduzidos os danos do chamado “efeito esponja”, que impede o armazenamento da água da chuva.

Robôs inteligentes podem levar ao fim da raça humana, diz Stephen Hawking (Folha de S.Paulo)

SALVADOR NOGUEIRA

COLABORAÇÃO PARA FOLHA

16/12/2014 02h03

O físico britânico Stephen Hawking está causando novamente. Em entrevista à rede BBC, ele alertou para os perigos do desenvolvimento de máquinas superinteligentes.

“As formas primitivas de inteligência artificial que temos agora se mostraram muito úteis. Mas acho que o desenvolvimento de inteligência artificial completa pode significar o fim da raça humana”, disse o cientista.

Ele ecoa um número crescente de especialistas –de filósofos a tecnologistas– que aponta as incertezas trazidas pelo desenvolvimento de máquinas pensantes.

Alex Argozino/Editoria de Arte/Folhapress
Robô

Recentemente, outro luminar a se pronunciar foi Elon Musk, sul-africano que fez fortuna ao criar um sistema de pagamentos para internet e agora desenvolve foguetes e naves para o programa espacial americano.

Em outubro, falando a alunos do MIT (Instituto de Tecnologia de Massachusetts), lançou um alerta parecido.

“Acho que temos de ser muito cuidadosos com inteligência artificial. Se eu tivesse que adivinhar qual é a nossa maior ameaça existencial, seria provavelmente essa.”

Para Musk, a coisa é tão grave que ele acredita na necessidade de desenvolver mecanismos de controle, talvez em nível internacional, “só para garantir que não vamos fazer algo bem idiota”.

SUPERINTELIGÊNCIA

A preocupação vem de longe. Em 1965, Gordon Moore, co-fundador da Intel, notou que a capacidade dos computadores dobrava a cada dois anos, aproximadamente.

Como o efeito é exponencial, em pouco tempo conseguimos sair de modestas máquinas de calcular a supercomputadores capazes de simular a evolução do Universo. Não é pouca coisa.

Os computadores ainda não ultrapassaram a capacidade de processamento do cérebro humano. Por pouco.

“O cérebro como um todo executa cerca de 10 mil trilhões de operações por segundo”, diz o físico Paul Davies, da Universidade Estadual do Arizona. “O computador mais rápido atinge 360 trilhões, então a natureza segue na frente. Mas não por muito tempo.”

Alguns tecnologistas comemoram essa ultrapassagem iminente, como o inventor americano Ray Kurzweil, que atualmente tem trabalhado em parceria com o Google para desenvolver o campo da IA (inteligência artificial).

Ele estima que máquinas com capacidade intelectual similar à humana surgirão em 2029. É mais ou menos o de tempo imaginado por Musk para o surgimento da ameaça.

“A inteligência artificial passará a voar por seus próprios meios, se reprojetando a um ritmo cada vez maior”, sugeriu Hawking.

O resultado: não só as máquinas seriam mais inteligentes que nós, como estariam em constante aprimoramento. Caso desenvolvam a consciência, o que farão conosco?

Kurzweil prefere pensar que nos ajudarão a resolver problemas sociais e se integrarão à civilização. Mas até ele admite que não há garantias. “Acho que a melhor defesa é cultivar valores como democracia, tolerância, liberdade”, disse à Folha.

Para ele, máquinas criadas nesse ambiente aprenderiam os mesmos valores. “Não é uma estratégia infalível”, diz Kurzweil. “Mas é o melhor que podemos fazer.”

Enquanto Musk sugere um controle sobre a tecnologia, Kurzweil acredita que já passamos o ponto de não-retorno –estamos a caminho da “singularidade tecnológica”, quando a IA alterará radicalmente a civilização.

Of gods and men: Societies living in harsh environments are more likely to believe in moralizing gods (Science Daily)

Date: November 10, 2014

Source: National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)

Summary: New research finds that cultures living in harsher ecosystems with limited resources are more prone to a belief in moralizing, high gods. The results indicate that other cross-disciplinary factors, including as political complexity, also influence this belief.


Just as physical adaptations help populations prosper in inhospitable habitats, belief in moralizing, high gods might be similarly advantageous for human cultures in poorer environments. A new study from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) suggests that societies with less access to food and water are more likely to believe in these types of deities.

“When life is tough or when it’s uncertain, people believe in big gods,” says Russell Gray, a professor at the University of Auckland and a founding director of the Max Planck Institute for History and the Sciences in Jena, Germany. “Prosocial behavior maybe helps people do well in harsh or unpredictable environments.”

Gray and his coauthors found a strong correlation between belief in high gods who enforce a moral code and other societal characteristics. Political complexity–namely a social hierarchy beyond the local community– and the practice of animal husbandry were both strongly associated with a belief in moralizing gods.

The emergence of religion has long been explained as a result of either culture or environmental factors but not both. The new findings imply that complex practices and characteristics thought to be exclusive to humans arise from a medley of ecological, historical, and cultural variables.

“When researchers discuss the forces that shaped human history, there is considerable disagreement as to whether our behavior is primarily determined by culture or by the environment,” says primary author Carlos Botero, a researcher at the Initiative for Biological Complexity at North Carolina State University. “We wanted to throw away all preconceived notions regarding these processes and look at all the potential drivers together to see how different aspects of the human experience may have contributed to the behavioral patterns we see today.”

The paper, which is now available online, will be published in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. To study variables associated with the environment, history, and culture, the research team included experts in biology, ecology, linguistics, anthropology, and even religious studies. The senior author, Gray, studies the intersection of psychology and linguistics, while Botero, an evolutionary ecologist, has examined coordinated behaviors in birds.

This study began with a NESCent working group that explored the evolution of human cultures. On a whim, Botero plotted ethnographic data of societies that believe in moralizing, high gods and found that their global distribution is quite similar to a map of cooperative breeding in birds. The parallels between the two suggested that ecological factors must play a part. Furthermore, recent research has supported a connection between a belief in moralizing gods and group cooperation. However, prior to this study, evidence supporting a relationship between such beliefs and the environment was elusive.

“A lot of evolutionists have been busy trying to bang religion on the head. I think the challenge is to explain it,” Gray says.

“Although some aspects of religion appear maladaptive, the near universal prevalence of religion suggests that there’s got to be some adaptive value and by looking at how these things vary ecologically, we get some insight.”

Botero, Gray, and their coauthors used historical, social, and ecological data for 583 societies to illustrate the multifaceted relationship between belief in moralizing, high gods and external variables. Whereas previous research relied on rough estimates of ecological conditions, this study used high-resolution global datasets for variables like plant growth, precipitation, and temperature. The team also mined the Ethnographic Atlas– an electronic database of more than a thousand societies from the 20th century– for geographic coordinates and sociological data including the presence of religious beliefs, agriculture, and animal husbandry.

“The goal became not just to look at the ecological variables, but to look at the whole thing. Once we accounted for as many other factors as we could, we wanted to see if we could still detect an environmental effect,” Botero says. “The overall picture is that these beliefs are ultimately shaped by a combination of historical, ecological, and social factors.”

Botero believes that this study is just the tip of the iceberg in examining human behavior from a cross-disciplinary standpoint. The team plans to further this study by exploring the processes that have influenced the evolution of other human behaviors including taboos, circumcision, and the modification of natural habitats.

“We are at an unprecedented time in history,” Botero says. “Now we’re able to harness both data and a combination of multidisciplinary expertise to explore these kinds of questions in an empirical way.”


Journal Reference:

  1. C. A. Botero, B. Gardner, K. R. Kirby, J. Bulbulia, M. C. Gavin, R. D. Gray. The ecology of religious beliefsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1408701111

Survey shows what Americans fear most (Science Daily)

Date: October 21, 2014

Source: Chapman University

Summary: The Chapman Survey on American Fears included 1,500 participants from across the nation and all walks of life. The research team leading this effort pared the information down into four basic categories: personal fears, crime, natural disasters and fear factors.


Chapman University has initiated the first comprehensive nationwide study on what strikes fear in Americans in the first of what is a planned annual study. According to the Chapman poll, the number one fear in America today is walking alone at night.

The Chapman Survey on American Fears included1,500 participants from across the nation and all walks of life. Underscoring Chapman’s growth and emergence in the sciences, the research team leading this effort pared the information down into four basic categories: personal fears, crime, natural disasters and fear factors.

The survey shows that the top five things Americans fear the most are:

1) Walking alone at night

2) Becoming the victim of identity theft

3) Safety on the internet

4) Being the victim of a mass/random shooting

5) Public speaking

“What initially lead us into this line of research was our desire to capture this information on a year-over-year basis so we can draw comparisons with what items are increasing in fear as well as decreasing,” said Dr. Christopher Bader, who led the team effort. “We learned through this initial survey that we had to phrase the questions according to fears vs. concerns to capture the information correctly, so that is how we present it,” Bader continued.

The top five things Americans worry or are concerned about are:

1) Having identity stolen on the internet

2) Corporate surveillance of internet activity

3) Running out of money in the future

4) Government surveillance of internet activity

5) Becoming ill/sick

“The sky is falling (and a serial killer is chasing me)”

Turning to the crime section of the Chapman Survey on American Fears, the team discovered findings that not only surprised them, but also those who work in fields pertaining to crime.

“What we found when we asked a series of questions pertaining to fears of various crimes is that a majority of Americans not only fear crimes such as, child abduction, gang violence, sexual assaults and others; but they also believe these crimes (and others) have increased over the past 20 years,” said Dr. Edward Day who led this portion of the research and analysis. “When we looked at statistical data from police and FBI records, it showed crime has actually decreased in America in the past 20 years. Criminologists often get angry responses when we try to tell people the crime rate has gone down.”

Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans do not feel like the United States is becoming a safer place. The Chapman Survey on American Fears asked how they think prevalence of several crimes today compare with 20 years ago. In all cases, the clear majority of respondents were pessimistic; and in all cases Americans believe crime has at least remained steady. Crimes specifically asked about were: child abduction, gang violence, human trafficking, mass riots, pedophilia, school shootings, serial killing and sexual assault.

“Fear of Disaster — Little Action to Prepare” 

Chapman’s growth in global climate change research and extreme events led another portion of The Chapman Survey on American Fears into the area of natural disasters and people’s preparedness. The findings showed that despite widespread fear, the vast majority of those surveyed do not have emergency kits — even in regions hardest hit by natural disasters.

The top five most feared natural disasters by Americans are:

1. Tornado/hurricane

2. Earthquakes

3. Floods

4. Pandemic or Major Epidemic

5. Power Outage

Despite these fears, only 25 percent of Americans have a disaster preparedness kit that includes food, water, clothing and medical supplies.

“Our research indicated that Americans are aware, but better communication strategies are needed to encourage the nearly 75 percent who are unprepared for catastrophe,” said Dr. Ann Gordon, who led this portion of the survey. “We are conducting follow-up studies to examine why so many Americans remain unprepared despite lessons learned from recent natural disasters,” Gordon continued. “And, we are also taking a closer look at ‘preppers’ — a community that takes preparedness to the extreme.”

Dr. Gordon’s work includes maps of America that breaks down the fears of natural disasters by region, which can be seen at http://www.chapman.edu/fearsurvey

“Fear Factors”

The remainder of The Chapman Survey on American Fears looks at fear factors.

“Through a complex series of analyses, we were able to determine what types of people tend to fear certain things, and what personal characteristics tend to be associated with most types of fear,” said Dr. Christopher Bader, who performed the analysis.

Factors Bader and his team looked at included: age, gender, race, work status, education, income, region of the country, urban vs. rural, political preference, religion, TV viewing, and gun ownership.

Through their analysis two key factors emerged: having a lower level of education and also high frequency of television viewing were the most consistent predictors of fear.

“Pensar o mundo em que vivemos sem dissociar a história da Terra da história da humanidade” (ICICT Notícias)

Por Graça Portela

29/10/2014

Com respostas bastante reflexivas, o pesquisador Carlos Saldanha, autor do livro “Desenvolvimento Sustentável para o Antropoceno”, responde a entrevista do site do Icict, falando de suas expectativas em relação à sua obra, suas análises e compreensão de que estamos em um momento único na história da humanidade e que é sim o momento de agirmos pelo meio ambiente. Sem medos.

O que o senhor espera com o lançamento de um livro que toca em um aspecto ainda pouco discutido no Brasil, que é o conceito do Antropoceno?

Escrevi esse livro pensando nos jovens estudantes. A juventude vem assumindo, desde meados dos anos 1960, relevante papel na vida política mundial. As ações dos jovens, que instituem formas novas de movimentos sociais e de protestos, não obedecem à lógica dos partidos políticos, sindicatos ou associações atreladas às tradicionais estruturas políticas de poder. Com este livro, espero contribuir para a ampliação dos mapas cognitivos e o reforço da potencialidade de transformação desse ator social extremamente relevante para a transformação da vida social. Nesses primeiros 14 anos do século XXI, nós pouco fizemos em relação ao enfrentamento da crise política que paira sobre nós, principalmente no que se refere à necessidade de aprimoramento do processo de democratização da sociedade brasileira, hoje carente de espaços públicos, fóruns e arenas de interlocução entre governantes e cidadãos. Eu diria que se a vida política tem uma ecologia, os jovens são, então, a fonte geradora de sua renovação, acredito que a democracia não é façanha indivíduos solitários, mas de um concerto a várias vozes, de uma polifonia na Era em que vivemos, o Antropoceno.

O mérito desse operador conceitual é o de permitir pensar o mundo em que vivemos sem dissociar a história da Terra da história da humanidade, consequentemente, reconhecer o papel do Homem como força motriz de processos de transformação dos sistemas que sustentam a vida na Terra. Atualmente, é quase um consenso que a Era do Antropoceno foi inaugurada com a Revolução Industrial na Inglaterra, em fins do século XVIII, por ocasião do funcionamento das primeiras máquinas a vapor. Algumas entidades internacionais das áreas das Ciências da Terra estão discutindo quando teria, de fato, começado o Antropoceno. Aliás, é interessante observar que já existe uma previsão de anúncio oficial, em 2016, desse entendimento compartilhado. Se eu tivesse que resumir, sintetizar, as características do Antropoceno, presentes em maior ou menor grau nas sociedades contemporâneas, diria que elas consistem, entre outras importantes determinações, numa Era de transformações climáticas naturais e destruição de ambientes naturais.  Podemos lembrar aqui que o aumento do consumo de combustíveis fósseis, a contaminação dos solos por hidrocarbonetos, a emissão de gases de efeito estufa, o desmatamento e o crescimento das áreas de produção agrícola com uso intenso de fertilizantes e agrotóxicos são apenas alguns exemplos de como a interferência do Homem no ambiente alterou a vida no Planeta. Todas essas transformações são vistas como constitutivas da nossa sociedade, com graus variados, é verdade, de manifestações no ”continente” brasileiro, mas, ao mesmo tempo, questões essenciais que mobilizam cada vez mais os jovens.

Por conta de tais características, o livro não se propõe a percorrer todos os meandros do Antropoceno. Eu quis apresentar um olhar panorâmico, afinal, seria impossível dar conta, empiricamente, de todas as questões que concernem o debate atual sobre as relações entre o homem, a natureza e a sociedade. Neste livro, eu me debrucei prioritariamente sobre os problemas e as soluções jurídicas, com o Direito se formando e se transformando em ações concretas dos homens que fazem, refazem e desfazem, com seu comportamento, as regras de conduta que nos governam. Tais questões se referem, no caso específico do trabalho de pesquisa que eu desenvolvo, aos problemas ambientais enfrentados pela sociedade brasileira.

No livro há uma visão ao mesmo tempo otimista, mas que nos leva a sermos mais responsáveis com o que estamos fazendo com o planeta. O senhor acredita que, de fato, o homem pode tentar reverter os problemas que estão sendo causados pelo próprio homem no meio ambiente?

Sim. Não é preciso ser um especialista para se dar conta de que a história humana é contingente. Portanto, não deve ser pensada como um processo no sentido de sucessão temporal, um conceito da Era do Antropoceno que usa o princípio da causalidade, típico das ciências naturais, como seu pressuposto. A história, ainda que fraturada, caótica, pode ser retomada em termos novos para que possamos nos apropriar do sentido. Um sentido que nós podemos assumir com prudência posto que é contingente. Nessa perspectiva, é preciso ater-se aos acontecimentos e aos momentos de ruptura que nos permitem compreender o que é consumado e um novo tempo que se inaugura.

Nessa linha de raciocínio, eu diria que não obstante as características do Antropoceno sintetizadas na pergunta anterior, características emblemáticas e dramáticas dos tempos que se convencionou chamar de modernos, se, por um lado, a submissão a certas condições é o modo pelo qual uma certa existência humana é possível, por outro lado, está sempre ao alcance do homem a liberação dessa sujeição mediante o acesso a uma outra forma de existência expressa através do conceito de desenvolvimento sustentável. Desse modo, a força compulsória de certas condições encontra sempre limites, aqueles da existência específica à qual se relacionam. A presente condição humana é, por exemplo, necessária e inelutável no planeta Terra, mas não o seria em um outro ponto do universo. Ou seja, o homem nunca é inteiramente condicionável, porque é permanentemente capaz de múltiplas formas de existência, isto é, capaz da transcendência das próprias modalidades da existência terrena na teia da vida de um único planeta, inter-relacionado e interdependente, com montanhas vertiginosas, cordilheiras imponentes, vales profundos, ilhas oceânicas, desertos extensos, planícies encharcadas, savanas, geleiras e tundras espaçosas, vulcões adormecidos e furiosos, florestas majestosas e cidades densamente povoadas com veículos automotores e homens dependentes de recursos naturais e de energias externas. Não obstante, no Século XX, tanto as duas grandes ideologias, a liberal quanto a socialista, não souberam lidar com, e nem mesmo contemplaram no seu projeto político, a degradação ambiental em processos industriais, com a geração de fumaça, resíduos sólidos e efluentes líquidos no solo e nos corpos hídricos; muito pelo contrário, ambos, o capitalismo industrialista e o coletivismo industrialista, colocaram em operação um modelo industrial agressivo aos valores ambientais de vida em sociedade. Portanto, a disposição de mudar de ideia e recomeçar oferece aos seres humanos uma condição de liberdade para estabelecer novas relações e novos começos.

Eu acredito que na dinâmica relacional Homem-Terra, o presente só vislumbra a esperança quando voltado para o futuro. Ou seja, a busca da transcendência dos custos ambientais gerados pelo desenvolvimento industrial das sociedades humanas – um traço comum que transcende as particularidades culturais e, portanto, refletem a condição humana – tem sido uma preocupação desde o século XIX, mas, somente a partir do final dos anos 60 do século passado até o presente, que problemas ambientais transnacionais passaram a fazer parte da agenda política dos países à luz dos conhecimentos científicos produzidos, com o reconhecimento de que o ambiente – ar, água, solo, subsolo, flora, fauna, pessoas, espaço sideral e suas inter-relações – é frágil e precisa de proteção legal especial, com justiça social traduzida em estruturas administrativas que promovam o desenvolvimento sustentável, formando um conjunto de instrumentos da ação pública assentado na legislação ambiental e nas práticas jurídicas específicas ao processo de formação de cada sociedade.

Como está o Brasil hoje em termos de política ambiental? Muitos alegam que, por sermos um país emergente, essa deva ser uma preocupação secundária. Qual a sua opinião sobre isso?

Em relação a primeira parte da pergunta, eu diria que no Brasil, até o final dos anos 1980, havia apenas preocupações pontuais com o meio ambiente, objetivando a sua conservação e não a sua preservação. As ações estatais estiveram organizadas, primordialmente, para assegurar a integridade física do território, em detrimento da integração social. A proteção jurídica do meio ambiente, explorado de forma desregrada era solucionada por intermédio do Código Civil, de influência nitidamente liberal, atualizado somente 86 anos depois de sua entrada em vigor, em 2002. Por mais de um século e meio, o legislador nacional procurou proteger categorias mais amplas de recursos naturais, limitando simplesmente a sua exploração desordenada. Protegia-se o todo a partir das partes e, de forma fragmentada, tutelava-se somente aquilo que tivesse interesse econômico. Havia, portanto, um conjunto de leis vagas e dispersas, estabelecidas em diversos níveis jurídico-administrativos, que regulavam atividades específicas. No país, as leis não tinham caráter ambiental, pois haviam sido concebidas e eram implementadas no contexto de um modelo de desenvolvimento e de um arcabouço legal que ignorava a questão ambiental, pelo menos nos termos em que já se colocava internacionalmente os problemas de conservação e proteção da natureza. Até 1972, por ocasião da Conferência de Estocolmo, o Brasil defendia a tese de que o principal sujeito da proteção ambiental era o ser humano, já que a “poluição da pobreza” (falta de saneamento básico e de cuidados com a saúde pública, a alimentação e a higiene) e a “poluição da riqueza” (industrial) possuíam um efeito muito mais avassalador do que os danos ao meio ambiente decorrentes do crescimento econômico. Entre os anos 1970 e 1980, os instrumentos legais variavam de estado para estado da federação no que se refere ao controle da poluição ambiental, leis federais específicas se destinavam tão somente a controlar a propriedade e o uso dos recursos naturais por meio do disciplinamento das atividades agroindustriais.

A proteção jurídica integral ao meio ambiente no país só veio a ocorrer a partir de 1981, com a institucionalização da Política Nacional do Meio Ambiente (lei nº 6.938). Os recursos ambientais passaram a abranger “a atmosfera, as águas interiores, superficiais e subterrâneas, os estuários, o mar territorial, o solo, o subsolo, os elementos da biosfera, a fauna e a flora” (lei nº 6.938/1981, artigo 3º, V, com redação dada pela lei nº 7.804/1989). O arranjo institucional previsto para lidar com as questões ambientais foi, então, pensado como um Sistema Nacional de Meio Ambiente (Sisnama), evidenciando a lógica federativa, especialmente por meio da divisão de responsabilidades (órgãos central, seccionais e locais). É interessante observar que, com base em uma concepção de sistema ecológico integrado, essa proteção passou a ocorrer de forma holística. Até esse momento, o desenvolvimento internacional dessa concepção, que vinha desde o final dos anos 1960, objetivava a proteção das partes a partir do todo, enfatizando o relacionamento entre os seres humanos e seus ambientes, bem como os aspectos de ordem teórica e normativa no compromisso com a sociedade por meio de uma relação diferente, responsável e harmoniosa. A partir dos anos 1980 é que se pode dizer que a questão ambiental (ecológica e socioambiental) emergiu efetivamente no interior do Estado brasileiro – ao mesmo tempo que a democracia se afirmava no imaginário da sociedade, na sua luta coletiva e no conjunto dos movimentos sociais –, quando um pensamento jurídico ambiental foi constituído no país.

Em relação à segunda parte da pergunta, eu diria que faz parte do processo de aprimoramento institucional brasileiro a luta para pôr em prática o modelo de desenvolvimento nacional, definido constitucionalmente como sustentável. É um desafio enorme reformar a atual versão do septuagenário modelo desenvolvimentista brasileiro. Em suas várias versões, uma coisa não mudou, ele continua a se basear no uso intensivo de combustíveis fósseis, dependente da exportação de produtos primários, as chamadas commodities, além de estar assentado em um modo de exploração dos recursos naturais que leva à destruição de extensas áreas dos biomas brasileiros. Tampouco, não podemos deixar de mencionar aqui a questão das dificuldades para demarcação das terras indígenas, ou ainda da não realização da reforma agrária.

Deveríamos discutir os ”fins” para os quais nos apropriamos da matéria e da energia disponíveis na porção de Terra onde vivemos. Como membros de uma coletividade territorial e juridicamente circunscrita, nós precisamos definir o que é prioridade para o nosso país em termos de desenvolvimento. Precisamos nos colocar a questão dos graves prejuízos ao patrimônio biológico e genético causados pelo consumo exponencial de agrotóxicos, levando à morte milhares de seres vivos envolvidos direta ou indiretamente com a produção agrícola. Ora, as pesquisas nas áreas das ciências e das tecnociências demonstram, há décadas, que as decisões sobre as políticas públicas em um Estado Democrático de Direito para fazer frente à degradação ambiental e ao uso predatório dos recursos naturais não podem mais ser tomadas apenas por critérios econômicos. É preciso agir de forma responsável em um mundo comum que contemple a todos em direitos e deveres.

Eu gostaria de concluir essa entrevista lembrando que quando a intervenção humana faz falta para modificar o curso das coisas na Era do Antropoceno, e criar o novo, o mundo é ameaçado pela sua própria ação destrutiva. Portanto, não há tempo para pessimismo e crise existencial quando ações individuais e coletivas precisam ser empreendidas se quisermos continuar avançando na construção de uma sociedade sustentável, passando de uma economia que tolera danos ambientais a uma que não tolera.

Learning the smell of fear: Mothers teach babies their own fears via odor, animal study shows (Science Daily)

Date: July 28, 2014

Source: University of Michigan Health System

Summary: Babies can learn what to fear in the first days of life just by smelling the odor of their distressed mothers’, new research suggests. And not just “natural” fears: If a mother experienced something before pregnancy that made her fear something specific, her baby will quickly learn to fear it too — through her odor when she feels fear.


Even when just the odor of the frightened mother was piped in to a chamber where baby rats were exposed to peppermint smell, the babies developed a fear of the same smell, and their blood cortisol levels rose when they smelled it. Credit: Image courtesy of University of Michigan Health System

Babies can learn what to fear in the first days of life just by smelling the odor of their distressed mothers, new research suggests. And not just “natural” fears: If a mother experienced something before pregnancy that made her fear something specific, her baby will quickly learn to fear it too — through the odor she gives off when she feels fear.

In the first direct observation of this kind of fear transmission, a team of University of Michigan Medical School and New York University studied mother rats who had learned to fear the smell of peppermint — and showed how they “taught” this fear to their babies in their first days of life through their alarm odor released during distress.

In a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team reports how they pinpointed the specific area of the brain where this fear transmission takes root in the earliest days of life.

Their findings in animals may help explain a phenomenon that has puzzled mental health experts for generations: how a mother’s traumatic experience can affect her children in profound ways, even when it happened long before they were born.

The researchers also hope their work will lead to better understanding of why not all children of traumatized mothers, or of mothers with major phobias, other anxiety disorders or major depression, experience the same effects.

“During the early days of an infant rat’s life, they are immune to learning information about environmental dangers. But if their mother is the source of threat information, we have shown they can learn from her and produce lasting memories,” says Jacek Debiec, M.D., Ph.D., the U-M psychiatrist and neuroscientist who led the research.

“Our research demonstrates that infants can learn from maternal expression of fear, very early in life,” he adds. “Before they can even make their own experiences, they basically acquire their mothers’ experiences. Most importantly, these maternally-transmitted memories are long-lived, whereas other types of infant learning, if not repeated, rapidly perish.”

Peering inside the fearful brain

Debiec, who treats children and mothers with anxiety and other conditions in the U-M Department of Psychiatry, notes that the research on rats allows scientists to see what’s going on inside the brain during fear transmission, in ways they could never do in humans.

He began the research during his fellowship at NYU with Regina Marie Sullivan, Ph.D., senior author of the new paper, and continues it in his new lab at U-M’s Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute.

The researchers taught female rats to fear the smell of peppermint by exposing them to mild, unpleasant electric shocks while they smelled the scent, before they were pregnant. Then after they gave birth, the team exposed the mothers to just the minty smell, without the shocks, to provoke the fear response. They also used a comparison group of female rats that didn’t fear peppermint.

They exposed the pups of both groups of mothers to the peppermint smell, under many different conditions with and without their mothers present.

Using special brain imaging, and studies of genetic activity in individual brain cells and cortisol in the blood, they zeroed in on a brain structure called the lateral amygdala as the key location for learning fears. During later life, this area is key to detecting and planning response to threats — so it makes sense that it would also be the hub for learning new fears.

But the fact that these fears could be learned in a way that lasted, during a time when the baby rat’s ability to learn any fears directly was naturally suppressed, is what makes the new findings so interesting, says Debiec.

The team even showed that the newborns could learn their mothers’ fears even when the mothers weren’t present. Just the piped-in scent of their mother reacting to the peppermint odor she feared was enough to make them fear the same thing.

And when the researchers gave the baby rats a substance that blocked activity in the amygdala, they failed to learn the fear of peppermint smell from their mothers. This suggests, Debiec says, that there may be ways to intervene to prevent children from learning irrational or harmful fear responses from their mothers, or reduce their impact.

From animals to humans: next steps

The new research builds on what scientists have learned over time about the fear circuitry in the brain, and what can go wrong with it. That work has helped psychiatrists develop new treatments for human patients with phobias and other anxiety disorders — for instance, exposure therapy that helps them overcome fears by gradually confronting the thing or experience that causes their fear.

In much the same way, Debiec hopes that exploring the roots of fear in infancy, and how maternal trauma can affect subsequent generations, could help human patients. While it’s too soon to know if the same odor-based effect happens between human mothers and babies, the role of a mother’s scent in calming human babies has been shown.

Debiec, who hails from Poland, recalls working with the grown children of Holocaust survivors, who experienced nightmares, avoidance instincts and even flashbacks related to traumatic experiences they never had themselves. While they would have learned about the Holocaust from their parents, this deeply ingrained fear suggests something more at work, he says.

Going forward, he hopes to work with U-M researchers to observe human infants and their mothers — including U-M psychiatrist Maria Muzik, M.D. and psychologist Kate Rosenblum, Ph.D., who run a Women and Infants Mental Health clinic and research program and also work with military families. The program is currently seeking women and their children to take part in a range of studies.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jacek Debiec and Regina Marie Sullivan. Intergenerational transmission of emotional trauma through amygdala-dependent mother-to-infant transfer of specific fear. PNAS, July 28, 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1316740111

Saving the world should be based on promise, not fear (The Guardian)

For 30 years I banged on about threats. But research shows we must to be true to ourselves – and to the wonder in nature

Monday 16 June 2014 20.41 BST

Le Conte Glacier, alaska

Le Conte Glacier, Alaska: ‘Almost everyone I know in this field is motivated by the love and ­enchantment nature inspires.’ Photograph: Ernest Manewal/Purestock/Super

If we had set out to alienate and antagonise the people we’ve been trying to reach, we could scarcely have done it better. This is how I feel, looking back on the past few decades of environmental campaigning, including my own.

This thought is prompted by responses to the column I wrote last week. It examined the psychological illiteracy that’s driving leftwing politics into oblivion. It argued that the failure by Labour and Democratic party strategists to listen to psychologists and cognitive linguists has resulted in a terrible mistake: the belief that they can best secure their survival by narrowing the distance between themselves and their conservative opponents.

Twenty years of research, comprehensively ignored by these parties, reveals that shifts such as privatisation and cutting essential public services strongly promote people’s extrinsic values (an attraction to power, prestige, image and status) while suppressing intrinsic values (intimacy, kindness, self-acceptance, independent thought and action). As extrinsic values are powerfully linked to conservative politics, pursuing policies that reinforce them is blatantly self-destructive.

One of the drivers of extrinsic values is a sense of threat. Experimental work suggests that when fears are whipped up, they trigger an instinctive survival response. You suppress your concern for other people and focus on your own interests. Conservative strategists seem to know this, which is why they emphasise crime, terrorism, deficits and immigration.

“Isn’t this what you’ve spent your life doing?” several people asked. “Emphasising threats?” It took me a while. If threats promote extrinsic values and if (as the research strongly suggests) extrinsic values are linked to a lack of interest in the state of the living planet, I’ve been engaged in contradiction and futility. For about 30 years. The threats, of course, are of a different nature: climate breakdown, mass extinction, pollution and the rest. And they are real. But there’s no obvious reason why the results should be different. Terrify the living daylights out of people, and they will protect themselves at the expense of others and of the living world.

It’s an issue taken up in a report by several green groups called Common Cause for Nature. “Provoking feelings of threat, fear or loss may successfully raise the profile of an issue,” but “these feelings may leave people feeling helpless and increasingly demotivated, or even inclined to actively avoid the issue”. People respond to feelings of insecurity “by attempting to exert control elsewhere, or retreating into materialistic comforts”.

Where we have not used threat and terror, we have tried money: an even graver mistake. Nothing better reinforces extrinsic values than putting a price on nature, or appealing to financial self-interest. It doesn’t work, even on its own terms. A study published in Nature Climate Change tested two notices placed in a filling station. One asked: “Want to protect the environment? Check your car’s tyre pressure.” The other tried: “Want to save money? Check your car’s tyre pressure.” The first was effective, the second useless.

We’ve tended to assume people are more selfish than they really are. Surveys across 60 countries show that most people consistently hold concern for others, tolerance, kindness and thinking for themselves to be more important than wealth, image and power. But those whose voices are loudest belong to a small minority with the opposite set of values. And often, idiotically, we have sought to appease them.

This is a form of lying – to ourselves and other people. I don’t know anyone who became an environmentalist because she or he was worried about ecological impacts on their bank balance. Almost everyone I know in this field is motivated by something completely different: the love and wonder and enchantment nature inspires. Yet, perhaps because we fear we will not be taken seriously, we scarcely mention them. We hide our passions behind columns of figures. Sure, we need the numbers and the rigour and the science, but we should stop pretending these came first.

Without being fully conscious of the failure and frustration that’s been driving it, I’ve been trying, like others, to promote a positive environmentalism, based on promise, not threat.

This is what rewilding, the mass restoration of ecosystems, is all about; and why I wrote my book Feral, which is a manifesto for rewilding – and for wonder and enchantment. But I’m beginning to see that this is not just another method: expounding a positive vision should be at the centre of attempts to protect the things we love. An ounce of hope is worth a ton of despair.

Part of this means changing the language. The language we use to describe our relations with nature could scarcely be more alienating. “Reserve” is alienation itself, or at least detachment: think of what it means when you apply that word to people. “Site of special scientific interest”, “no-take zone“, “ecosystem services”: these terms are a communications disaster. Even “environment” is a cold and distancing word, which creates no pictures. These days I tend to use natural world or living planet, which invoke vivid images. One of the many tasks for the rewilding campaign some of us will be launching in the next few months is to set up a working group to change the language. There’s a parallel here with the Landreader project by the photographer Dominick Tyler, which seeks to rescue beautiful words describing nature from obscurity.

None of this is to suggest that we should not discuss the threats or pretend that the crises faced by this magnificent planet are not happening. Or that we should cease to employ rigorous research and statistics. What it means is that we should embed both the awareness of these threats and their scientific description in a different framework: one that emphasises the joy and awe to be found in the marvels at risk; one that proposes a better world, rather than (if we work really hard for it), just a slightly-less-shitty-one-than-there-would-otherwise-have-been.

Above all, this means not abandoning ourselves to attempts to appease a minority who couldn’t give a cuss about the living world, but think only of their wealth and power. Be true to yourself and those around you, and you will find the necessary means of reaching others.

• Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully referenced version of this article can be found at monbiot.com

Has a marine mammal conservation program become too successful? (Slate)

Great White Sharks Are Back

By |Posted Tuesday, July 2, 2013, at 4:05 PM

Great white shark.

Today, a great white shark sighting is more likely to elicit curiosity than fear. Cape Cod sharks even have their own advocacy group. Photo by Steven Benjamin/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

When a tourist from Colorado was bitten by a great white shark last summer while swimming off Cape Cod, an excited media made predictable comparisons to the 1975 blockbuster Jaws. The 50-year-old man, who was fortunate to survive with bites to his legs but with all his limbs still attached, was the first human to be attacked by a shark in Massachusetts waters since 1936. As more sighting reports poured in, 2012 became Cape Cod’s “Summer of the Shark.”

We all love a good shark scare, but in this case the coverage wasn’t completely exaggerated. In 1974, when Jaws was filmed just off the cape on Martha’s Vineyard, great white sharks—known to marine biologists simply as white sharks—were rare, with one or two spotted in New England waters each year. In 2012, there were more than 20 confirmed sightings at Cape Cod beaches, and so far this summer two beaches have been closed temporarily after the sharks’ telltale dorsal fins were seen just offshore. Scientists have now tagged 34 great whites off of Cape Cod, and the data show the minivan-size fish sticking to a clear migration pattern—down south or out to sea in the winter and, like the Kennedys, back to the cape every summer.

Jaws aside, these sharks are not hunting unsuspecting vacationers. They’re after seals, which have soared in population in recent years thanks to a national conservation effort that has proven enormously successful—some might say too successful. The shark resurgence comes down to simple food chain economics, but it also shows how wildlife conservation can sometimes have weird and unpredictable consequences.

Seals have a tendency to hang around boats and snatch fish from nets, and for centuries people fishing off New England would kill any seal they saw. Between the late 19thcentury and the early 1960s, the state of Massachusetts offered a bounty of up to $5 for every pinniped slaughtered. By 1972, harbor seals, once common on Cape Cod, were becoming rarer, and gray seals were all but wiped out. But that year Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a law that forbids the killing, capture, or harassment of whales, dolphins, polar bears, manatees, seals, and similar animals—creatures that commercial hunting and other human activity had taken, in some cases, to the brink of extinction.

The act has been a tremendous success. In March 2011, a one-day count of gray seals in Massachusetts waters found 15,756 of them, compared to 5,611 in 1999. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that the gray seal population in the Western Atlantic grew annually between 6 and 9 percent during the past three decades. Today, seals haul out and lounge on some beaches in enormous numbers, and it’s common to see them swimming alone or in pairs up and down the Atlantic side of Cape Cod. That’s a lot of shark bait. One recent afternoon at Nauset Light Beach, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, I stood on the sand with a group of beachgoers watching a sleek brown head bobbing just past the breakers. Having been warned by prominent signs not to swim near seals, none of us were going near the water. “Does this mean there are sharks out there?” one woman asked, in a tone that revealed both anxiety and fascination.

Tourism is Cape Cod’s main industry, with domestic visitors spending some $850 million in 2011, and locals worry that if anyone were to be killed or badly hurt by a shark, tourists might start to avoid cape beaches. In an effort to educate people about shark safety, beach authorities have erected notice boards, and towns are using a $50,000 state grant to print brochures with helpful shark safety tips—chief among them, “Avoid swimming near seals.” Looking to South Africa, which has been dealing with great white sharks for years, Cape Cod officials have talked about setting up a system for shark detection, perhaps by using spotter planes or installing more acoustic buoys to track tagged sharks. But so far there isn’t enough funding for a major effort.

Seals are taking the blame for luring sharks, and at the same time the old resentment is flaring up among some fishermen, who say seals are harming the cape’s struggling fishing industry. Gordon Waring, a seal specialist at the NOAA, cautions that marine biologists don’t actually know how seals interact with fisheries, and so far there is no sign that they are eating more than their habitat can support. But it is clear that seals are attracted to fishing boats and piers, and fishermen who watch seals stealing fish from their nets justifiably resent the greedy creatures, which the Marine Mammal Protection Act says can’t even be shooed away (that would be “harassment”). Fish stocks, particularly of cod, are down, and while that’s mostly due to other factors such as decades of overfishing, seals are a visible target for blame. There has even been talk of a seal cull, and a Nantucket-based group calling itself the Seal Abatement Coalition is lobbying Congress to remove gray seals from the list of species covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Seal culls are already a regular occurrence in Canada, which has historically had much larger seal populations.

That might all sound like we’re headed for a return to the era when seals were shot on sight and sharks stalked and killed to protect swimmers, but in truth there are heartening signs that humans’ relationship with ocean life off Cape Cod will be better this time around. While a horror movie starring an animatronic shark could once keep people out of the water all summer, today, a great white sighting is more likely to elicit curiosity than fear. Cape Cod sharks even have their own advocacy group.

Gray seal hanging around at the Chatham Fishing Pier.Seals have a tendency to hang around boats and snatch fish from nets. Courtesy of Amy Crawford

“As tragic as a shark attack is, it would be more tragic not to have sharks in our oceans,” says Cynthia Wigren, who last summer helped found the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a Cape Cod group (with an adorable smiling shark logo) that raises money for education and research. Greg Skomal, a shark biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, has been leading an effort to tag great whites and study their migration patterns. He sees the sharks’ return as an indication that the marine ecosystem off New England is returning to normal, with sharks playing a crucial role as apex predators. That’s great news, ecologically speaking. But as he points out, “That does not take into consideration the negative impacts that can occur with the restoration of a natural ecosystem.”

Sharks are not the brightest animals in the sea. Humans are not a preferred prey animal, but sharks looking for seals sometimes get confused. Given that their primary way of interacting with the world is to use their mouths (in a way, maybe they are the “mindless eating machines” of the Jaws trailer), a shark may give a human swimmer a good “gumming,” Skomal says, before realizing it hasn’t found a seal. “If sharks wanted to eat humans, we’d have a hell of a lot more shark attacks,” Skomal says. “These are instinctive wild animals, and they make mistakes every now and then. It’s extremely rare, but nonetheless they make mistakes.”

While a great white shark’s honest mistake can still be terrifying—just ask that tourist who got bitten last summer—sharks’ public image seems to be evolving as conservationists educate people about the need to protect vulnerable species and as our understanding of nature becomes more sophisticated. We may be learning to adapt to nature, rather than forcing it to adapt to us.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Chatham, a 300-year-old fishing village on the elbow of Cape Cod that has found itself at the epicenter of the wildlife resurgence. InJaws, small town leaders tried to cover up shark attacks, fearing they would be bad for business. But Lisa Franz, director of Chatham’s Chamber of Commerce, says the opposite has been true—at least so long as no one has been seriously hurt. While the local fishing industry is struggling, other businesses are capitalizing on people’s curiosity about sharks and the seals they feast on. Shark T-shirts and stuffed toys are flying off gift shop shelves, and there’s talk of making Chatham an ecotourism destination.

“When the first shark hits the newspapers, we get busier earlier,” says Keith Lincoln, who runs a Chatham cruise business that specializes in seal tours. His “office,” parked recently in a lot at the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, is a Honda Odyssey with an inflatable shark strapped to the roof—“a hit with the tourists,” he says. But while passengers might say they want to see sharks, Lincoln is not sure they know what they’re getting into. He has seen great whites swimming near the beach, their huge forms casting dark shadows on the sand below. “We usually don’t tell people,” he says. “They leave here all brave, but when they see a fish that’s as big as the boat, they’re not so brave.”

Then again, he might just need a bigger boat.

Watch Discovery Channel’s joking take on the shark frenzy for seals here.

How Our Bodies Interact With Our Minds in Response to Fear and Other Emotions (Science Daily)

Apr. 7, 2013 — New research has shown that the way our minds react to and process emotions such as fear can vary according to what is happening in other parts of our bodies.

New research has shown that the way our minds react to and process emotions such as fear can vary according to what is happening in other parts of our bodies. (Credit: © sellingpix / Fotolia)

In two different presentations on April 8 at the British Neuroscience Association Festival of Neuroscience (BNA2013) in London, researchers have shown for the first time that the heart’s cycle affects the way we process fear, and that a part of the brain that responds to stimuli, such as touch, felt by other parts of the body also plays a role.

Dr Sarah Garfinkel, a postdoctoral fellow at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (Brighton, UK), told a news briefing: “Cognitive neuroscience strives to understand how biological processes interact to create and influence the conscious mind. While neural activity in the brain is typically the focus of research, there is a growing appreciation that other bodily organs interact with brain function to shape and influence our perceptions, cognitions and emotions.

“We demonstrate for the first time that the way in which we process fear is different dependent on when we see fearful images in relation to our heart.”

Dr Garfinkel and her colleagues hooked up 20 healthy volunteers to heart monitors, which were linked to computers. Images of fearful faces were shown on the computers and the electrocardiography (ECG) monitors were able to communicate with the computers in order to time the presentation of the faces with specific points in the heart’s cycle.

“Our results show that if we see a fearful face during systole (when the heart is pumping) then we judge this fearful face as more intense than if we see the very same fearful face during diastole (when the heart is relaxed). To look at neural activity underlying this effect, we performed this experiment in an MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] scanner and demonstrated that a part of the brain called the amygdala influences how our heart changes our perception of fear.

“From previous research, we know that if we present images very fast then we have trouble detecting them, but if an image is particularly emotional then it can ‘pop’ out and be seen. In a second experiment, we exploited our cardiac effect on emotion to show that our conscious experience is affected by our heart. We demonstrated that fearful faces are better detected at systole (when they are perceived as more fearful), relative to diastole. Thus our hearts can also affect what we see and what we don’t see — and can guide whether we see fear.

“Lastly, we have demonstrated that the degree to which our hearts can change the way we see and process fear is influenced by how anxious we are. The anxiety level of our individual subjects altered the extent their hearts could change the way they perceived emotional faces and also altered neural circuitry underlying heart modulation of emotion.”

Dr Garfinkel says that her findings might have the potential to help people who suffer from anxiety or other conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“We have identified an important mechanism by which the heart and brain ‘speak’ to each other to change our emotions and reduce fear. We hope to explore the therapeutic implications in people with high anxiety. Anxiety disorders can be debilitating and are very prevalent in the UK and elsewhere. We hope that by increasing our understanding about how fear is processed and ways that it could be reduced, we may be able to develop more successful treatments for these people, and also for those, such as war veterans, who may be suffering from PTSD.

“In addition, there is a growing appreciation about how different forms of meditation can have therapeutic consequences. Work that integrates body, brain and mind to understand changes in emotion can help us understand how meditation and mindfulness practices can have calming effects.”

In a second presentation, Dr Alejandra Sel, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at City University (London, UK), investigated a part of the brain called the somatosensory cortex — the area that perceives bodily sensations, such as touch, pain, body temperature and the perception of the body’s place in space, and which is activated when we observe emotional expressions in the faces of other people.

“In order to understand other’s people emotions we need to experience the same observed emotions in our body. Specifically, observing an emotional face, as opposed to a neutral face, is associated with an increased activity in the somatosensory cortex as if we were expressing and experiencing our own emotions. It is also known that people with damage to the somatosensory cortex find it difficult to recognise emotion in other people’s faces,” Dr Sel told the news briefing.

However, until now, it has not been clear whether activity in the somatosensory cortex was simply a by-product of the way we process visual information, or whether it reacts independently to emotions expressed in other people’s faces, actively contributing to how we perceive emotions in others.

In order to discover whether the somatosensory cortex contributes to the processing of emotion independently of any visual processes, Dr Sel and her colleagues tested two situations on volunteers. Using electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the brain response to images, they showed participants either a face showing fear (emotional) or a neutral face. Secondly, they combined the showing of the face with a small tap to an index finger or the left cheek immediately afterwards.

Dr Sel said: “By tapping someone’s cheek or finger you can modify the ‘resting state’ of the somatosensory cortex inducing changes in brain electrical activity in this area. These changes are measureable and observable with EEG and this enables us to pinpoint the brain activity that is specifically related to the somatosensory cortex and its reaction to external stimuli.

“If the ‘resting state’ of the somatosensory cortex when a fearful face is shown has greater electrical activity than when a neutral face is shown, the changes in the activity of the somatosensory cortex induced by the taps and measured by EEG also will be greater when observing fearful as opposed to neutral faces.

“We subtracted results of the first situation (face only) from the second situation (face and tap), and compared changes in the activity related with the tap in the somatosensory cortex when seeing emotional faces versus neutral faces. This way, we could observe responses of the somatosensory cortex to emotional faces independently of visual processes,” she explained.

The researchers found that there was enhanced activity in the somatosensory cortex in response to fearful faces in comparison to neutral faces, independent of any visual processes. Importantly, this activity was focused in the primary and secondary somatosensory areas; the primary area receives sensory information directly from the body, while the secondary area combines sensory information from the body with information related to body movement and other information, such as memories of previous, sensitive experiences.

“Our experimental approach allows us to isolate and show for the first time (as far as we are aware) changes in somatosensory activity when seeing emotional faces after taking away all visual information in the brain. We have shown the crucial role of the somatosensory cortex in the way our minds and bodies perceive human emotions. These findings can serve as starting point for developing interventions tailored for people with problems in recognising other’s emotions, such as autistic children,” said Dr Sel.

The researchers now plan to investigate whether they get similar results when people are shown faces with other expressions such as happy or angry, and whether the timing of the physical stimulus, the tap to the finger or cheek, makes any difference. In this experiment, the tap occurred 105 milliseconds after a face was shown, and Dr Sel wonders about the effect of a longer time interval.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byBritish Neuroscience Association, via AlphaGalileo.

Antibiotic Resistance Poses ‘Catastrophic Threat’ To Medicine, Says Britain’s Top Health Official (Reuters)

Reuters  |  By Kate KellandPosted: 03/10/2013 11:10 pm

LONDON, March 11 (Reuters) – Antibiotic resistance poses a catastrophic threat to medicine and could mean patients having minor surgery risk dying from infections that can no longer be treated, Britain’s top health official said on Monday.

Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said global action is needed to fight antibiotic, or antimicrobial, resistance and fill a drug “discovery void” by researching and developing new medicines to treat emerging, mutating infections.

Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and brought to market in the past few decades, and it is a race against time to find more, as bacterial infections increasingly evolve into “superbugs” resistant to existing drugs.

“Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics,” Davies told reporters as she published a report on infectious disease.

“And routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection.”

One of the best known superbugs, MRSA, is alone estimated to kill around 19,000 people every year in the United States – far more than HIV and AIDS – and a similar number in Europe.

And others are spreading. Cases of totally drug resistant tuberculosis have appeared in recent years and a new wave of “super superbugs” with a mutation called NDM 1, which first emerged in India, has now turned up all over the world, from Britain to New Zealand.

Last year the WHO said untreatable superbug strains of gonorrhoea were spreading across the world.

Laura Piddock, a professor of microbiology at Birmingham University and director of the campaign group Antibiotic Action, welcomed Davies’ efforts to raise awareness of the problem.

“There are an increasing number of infections for which there are virtually no therapeutic options, and we desperately need new discovery, research and development,” she said.

Davies called on governments and organisations across the world, including the World Health Organisation and the G8, to take the threat seriously and work to encourage more innovation and investment into the development of antibiotics.

“Over the past two decades there has been a discovery void around antibiotics, meaning diseases have evolved faster than the drugs to treat them,” she said.

Davies called for more cooperation between the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries to preserve the existing arsenal of antibiotics, and more focus on developing new ones.

Increasing surveillance to keep track of drug-resistant superbugs, prescribing fewer antibiotics and making sure they are only prescribed when needed, and ensuring better hygiene to keep infections to a minimum were equally important, she said.

Nigel Brown, president of the Society for General Microbiology, agreed the issues demanded urgent action and said its members would work hard to better understand infectious diseases, reduce transmission of antibiotic resistance, and help develop new antibiotics.

“The techniques of microbiology and new developments such as synthetic biology will be crucial in achieving this,” he said. (Editing by Jason Webb)

Bem-vindos ao mundo dos adultos. Ou não? (Canal Ibase)

http://www.canalibase.org.br/bem-vindos-ao-mundo-dos-adultos-ou-nao/

11/03/2013

Renzo Taddei
Colunista do Canal Ibase

O texto abaixo é uma reflexão sobre o que significa hoje, em face às crises globais –  política, econômica e ambiental -, atravessar a fronteira que separa o mundo dos jovens do dos adultos. Foi escrito por ocasião de minha indicação a paraninfo da turma de formandos do curso de Comunicação Social da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, e lido em cerimônia de colação de grau, no dia 2 de março de 2013. O texto, no entanto, fala não apenas aos graduandos da referida turma, mas a todos os jovens que se acham de alguma forma interpelados pelas exigências do mundo adulto, interpelação esta que se dá na forma de pressão para que tais jovens se conformem e se adequem às estruturas e formas de organização social existentes. Por essa razão, decidi reproduzi-lo nesta coluna. O texto foi mantido tal qual foi apresentado.

 

Foto: adam.declercq/Flickr

Inicialmente não posso deixar de agradecer a minha indicação a paraninfo da turma, coisa que verdadeiramente me emocionou. Essa é a primeira vez que isso me acontece. E como seria de se esperar de um paraninfo de primeira viagem, fui pesquisar do que se trata. A rigor, o paraninfo é um padrinho ligado à identidade profissional dos formandos, alguém de quem se espera que diga algo no rito de passagem da formatura que seja ao mesmo tempo uma última aula – mas não exatamente, porque nesse momento vocês não são mais estudantes -, e que seja também o primeiro conselho profissional – mas não exatamente, porque nesse momento vocês ainda não estão formados. Vocês estão, nesse exato instante, em processo de transformação. Entraram nesse auditório como estudantes, e vão sair como bacharéis. Por isso a colação de grau é um rito de passagem: vocês saem diferentes do que entram, alguma coisa se transforma no processo. Nesse meu discurso, quero falar um pouco sobre isso que muda, que se transforma. E como isso se transforma, em que direção, pra onde vai.

Alguns de vocês certamente devem estar se perguntado se eu não vou simplesmente congratular os formandos e dizer que o Brasil precisa deles, que se esforcem para fazer desse um país melhor, que agora eles tem uma responsabilidade para com a sociedade, etc.– o discurso padrão, pré-formatado, disponível na Internet. Pois é, não vou. Isso seria perder o tempo de vocês e o meu. Se vocês me elegeram paraninfo – eu, que não sou jornalista, publicitário, editor, produtor, diretor, apresentador ou locutor; eu, que nem sequer sou professor das habilitações profissionais da Escola de Comunicação, mas ao invés disso sou um humilde professor de disciplina do ciclo básico, antropologia -, alguma razão deve haver. Nem que ela seja apenas certo gosto por viver perigosamente (dado que quem teve aula comigo sabe que eu tenho certa tendência a ser provocador e subversivo).

De qualquer forma, não posso evitar certo ponto de vista antropológico. Então, gostaria inicialmente de dizer que vocês são privilegiados. Já foram mais longe do que o Bill Gates e o Steve Jobs – ambos abandonaram os estudos universitários, e, portanto, não viveram esse rito de passagem que vocês vivem aqui hoje. Mas obviamente não é disso que quero falar. De certa forma, se há uma equivalência ou continuidade entre esse rito de passagem, a graduação universitária, e os ritos de passagem vividos por outras coletividades e grupos sociais, essa equivalência existe nos rituais nos quais um indivíduo passa a desempenhar, de forma integral, papéis de adulto. Esses são tradicionalmente chamados ritos de puberdade. “Mas a puberdade já passou faz tempo!”, vocês me dirão. Pois é aí mesmo onde reside o privilégio: entre deixar de ser criança e passar à condição de adulto, de forma integral, nossa civilização criou a adolescência, esse período que não acaba nunca, e onde tudo é mal definido, esquisito, tudo está de alguma forma fora do lugar, sem que se saiba exatamente o porquê. Em geral, a adolescência não existe nas culturas não ocidentais, e não existia no mundo ocidental até por volta da década de 1880. Na visão de muitos povos não ocidentais, o que nós ocidentais fazemos é infantilizar os indivíduos por quase uma década, e depois exigimos maturidade, como se ela surgisse num passe de mágica. Mas sabemos que as coisas entre nós não se dão exatamente dessa forma.

Ou seja, se vocês fossem índios – isto é, se não forem; quem sabe alguém aqui seja – já teriam passado pelo ritual que faz de alguém um adulto há muito tempo. Como vocês podem ver, não há qualquer relação entre ser adulto, no sentido que estou usando aqui, e uma determinada idade cronológica. Em algumas sociedades pode-se ganhar o status de adulto aos 7 anos; em outras,  como no mundo acadêmico em que eu vivo, por exemplo, a cidadania integral só se consegue com a obtenção do título de doutor, e a vida adulta raramente começa antes dos 30 anos. Tomemos então o conceito de adulto como equivalente a estar integrado de forma plena à ordem social vigente, às instituições centrais do meio social em que o indivíduo vive.

Voltando ao rito de passagem, um rito que funcione como tal não é apenas uma formalidade. Ele opera uma certa mágica, algo que efetivamente transforma quem por ele passa. A famosa frase “eu vos declaro marido e mulher”, ou a temida “eu declaro o réu culpado”, tem o poder de operar uma transformação real na identidade do sujeito; transformação que não ocorreria sem a existência do rito. Infelizmente, grande parte dos nossos ritos se burocratizou. O que os exemplos antropológicos mostram é que os ritos de passagem mais eficazes são aqueles em que o simbolismo associado à transformação da identidade é vivido materialmente, através de objetos capazes de grande mobilização emocional – como a hóstia, as alianças, o anel de formatura, o diploma, os trajes especiais -, e mais ainda quando essa materialidade é vivida no corpo – como as distintas formas de circuncisão, as escarificações (a produção de cicatrizes), tatuagens específicas, o corte dos cabelos, os estados de transe e outras práticas que envolvem alguma forma de dor. Numa conhecida prática que é parte do ritual de puberdade dos índios Maués e de outras tribos amazônicas, por exemplo, os jovens são levados a inserir uma das mãos em uma luva cheia de formigas tucandeiras, e devem suportar, por 15 minutos, a dor das ferroadas. Em nossa sociedade há muitos rituais que deixam marcas no corpo e que envolvem sofrimento: sem mencionar o “pede pra sair” do Capitão Nascimento, outro exemplo talvez igualmente chocante – pra quem não é da nossa tribo, obviamente – é o fato de que muita gente acha que antes de aparecer nas fotos de celebrações como essa, é preciso deformar o corpo de alguma forma: suando muito nas academias, submetendo-se a dietas alimentares agressivas, e até a cirurgias plásticas. Perto disso tudo, a monografia de graduação parece moleza.

Mas qual a necessidade disso tudo? Por que a transição à vida adulta não ocorre de forma gradual, sem que um ritual marque o momento, produzindo uma singularidade no transcorrer da vida que desordena e reordena as coisas? Num texto publicado há alguns anos no Brasil, Levi-Strauss narra e analisa um fato ocorrido na cidade de Dijon, França, no ano de 1951, que pode nos ajudar a entender essa questão. Mais precisamente no dia 24 de dezembro daquele ano, padres promoveram o enforcamento da figura do Papai Noel, que posteriormente foi queimado, em frente à catedral da cidade. A acusação: paganizar o Natal. No dia seguinte, o velhinho foi ressuscitado pela prefeitura da cidade, e apareceu no topo do prédio do governo municipal, falando às crianças, como fazia tradicionalmente. Essa sequência de eventos naturalmente gerou um intenso debate, que se espalhou por toda a França. Na opinião de Levi-Strauss, no entanto, mais importante do que discutir se se deve dar cabo ou não do Papai Noel, ou porque as crianças gostam tanto dele, é tentar entender por que é que os adultos o criaram, em primeiro lugar. Afinal, o Papai Noel não é invenção das crianças; estas são levadas a acreditar nele, por influência direta dos adultos. A resposta é bastante óbvia: o Papai Noel é um instrumento através do qual os adultos exercem controle sobre as crianças. “Só ganha presente quem se comportar bem, deitar-se quando mandado, comer tudo”. Levi-Strauss segue adiante para mostrar que os dados antropológicos são abundantes em relação ao fato de que os adultos temem as crianças, ou os não-ainda-plenamente-adultos.

E por que é que os adultos temem as crianças e os jovens, os não-ainda-plenamente-adultos? Porque esses têm o poder de bagunçar a vida adulta, desorganizar a ordem estabelecida, são subversivos por natureza – e, em muitas tradições, inclusive a nossa, isso literalmente é entendido como uma questão de natureza, em oposição à sociedade: as crianças são parte do mundo da natureza, mundo esse que é ao mesmo tempo uma ameaça ao mundo social, essencialmente dos adultos (e, frequentemente, dos homens), e precisa ser conquistado por este. Esse medo resulta na criação de personagens como o Papai Noel e o bicho papão, apenas para mencionar dois exemplos mais familiares; resulta também na necessidade de submeter os ainda-não-adultos a ritos de passagem psicologicamente intensos, de modo a construir, através do rito, um novo adulto, desnaturalizado e socializado.

E aqui estamos chegando ao que interessa. O que eu acabo de dizer é que todo ritual tem um duplo efeito: por um lado, transforma a identidade de quem passa por ele, de modo que o indivíduo interiorize os valores da sociedade e localize-se, de forma produtiva, nela; por outro, o ritual promove a ratificação dos poderes instituídos, o reforço das estruturas de poder, do status quo. Nesse mesmo ritual que vivemos aqui, no momento em que cada um de vocês ganha a credencial de bacharel, renova-se a sacralidade da universidade enquanto poder instituído legitimamente, com autoridade para traçar a linha dos que têm e dos que não têm acesso aos privilégios trazidos por tal credencial. Renova-se também a sacralidade da autoridade dos professores – vejam só como estamos em posições espaciais diferentes aqui hoje, vocês mais embaixo, os professores mais acima, vocês aqui para receber algo, os professores para dar algo. O mesmo ocorre num tribunal, em uma cerimônia de casamento ou em um batismo: ao mesmo tempo em que alguém é condenado ou absolvido, ou casado, ou batizado, é reforçado o poder do Estado ou da instituição religiosa.

Até aqui, tudo certo: não é difícil encontrar livro de introdução à antropologia que diga, ou pelo menos dê a entender, que as sociedades sempre se organizaram dessa forma, de modo que esse é um fato da realidade. O problema é que, na minha visão, isso existe em contradição com a ideia, tão repetida em discursos de paraninfo mundo afora, de que os formandos devem contribuir na construção de um mundo melhor. Trata-se de um problema de incompatibilidade entre forma e conteúdo: falar em mudanças, ou seja, na construção de um mundo melhor, num ritual que promove a reprodução das coisas como elas são, que coopta mentes e corações jovens e os coloca no centro das estruturas sociais que criaram e mantém em funcionamento o mundo que se pretende mudar. Talvez, se vivêssemos em um mundo com problemas menores, precisando de pequenas reformas aqui e ali, mas no qual o estado geral da vida fosse o de plenitude e alegria, esse fosse o caso.

Mas não há nada mais radicalmente oposto à realidade na qual nos encontramos. O mundo não precisa de pequenas reformas; os problemas da atualidade são estruturais e profundos. Aproveitando que estamos aqui, no Centro de Tecnologia, coração da engenharia da UFRJ, eu diria que, se perguntarmos a um engenheiro civil o que se deve fazer com um edifício com problemas estruturais profundos, ele diria: é preciso demolir o edifício, e fazer outro, sobre base mais sólida, com estrutura mais adequada. Mas quais são esses problemas, tão sérios, no mundo em que vivemos? Eu certamente não precisaria (nem conseguiria, se quisesse) listar os problemas que temos diante de nós, dado o fato de que vocês talvez estejam entre as pessoas mais bem informadas do planeta. Mas permitam-me citar apenas alguns, de modo a colocar recheio no argumento que estou construindo aqui. O mundo vive, já há cinco anos, uma crise econômica global sem precedentes, crise na qual ficou claro o quanto os Estados nacionais funcionam para manter o mercado mundial em funcionamento, atendendo a interesses das grandes corporações, e em detrimento de suas próprias populações (basta analisar a relação entre governos, bancos e a população, em países como os Estados Unidos, Inglaterra, Itália e Espanha, para se ver isso com clareza; ou a relação entre governos, empreiteiras, mineradoras e a população, no caso do Brasil).

Além disso, o mundo vive há pelo menos trinta anos uma crise ambiental sem precedentes, e continuamos ouvindo dos governos americano e chinês a mensagem de que sua produção econômica no curto prazo é mais importante do que a vida no planeta no futuro. Isso dá certo alívio ao governo brasileiro, que pode apenas entrar no vácuo dos gigantes americano e chinês, sem ter que declarar explicitamente que tem a mesma posição. Ao mesmo tempo, vemos grande parte da Europa trabalhando na transição de suas matrizes energéticas em direção a fontes de energia que não agridem os ecossistemas locais (como a energia solar; detalhe que não estou falando de energias supostamente “limpas”, mas das que não agridem os ecossistemas. As hidrelétricas, por exemplo, não apenas são grandes agressoras dos ecossistemas, como alimentam a perversão política que é o papel das grandes empreiteiras no financiamento das campanhas políticas nesse país); enquanto isso o Brasil trabalha para tornar-se o sexto maior produtor de petróleo do mundo! Nada como ser capaz de mobilizar um time excelente de publicitários para ser capaz de andar na contramão do bom senso e ainda ter apoio popular. E some-se a isso tudo o fato de que no Brasil, os 20% mais ricos detém 60% de toda a riqueza nacional; metade da população economicamente ativa, mais de 50 milhões de pessoas, trabalha de sol a sol para o enriquecimento de duas ou três centenas de famílias.

E eu nem mencionei a política. Alguém acha que as estruturas políticas brasileiras funcionam bem? Ninguém sabe, porque ninguém sabe como elas funcionam!

Enfim, esse é o mundo dos adultos em que vocês são, agora, admitidos de forma integral. Não é de se estranhar que um bocado de gente jovem resista a esse processo, muitas vezes entendido, literalmente, como um processo ilegítimo de cooptação. O mundo dos adultos – ou seja, do status quo, das instituições de poder que nos trouxeram até aqui – está moralmente falido. Construir um mundo melhor, em qualquer sentido que não seja apenas a reprodução de retórica vazia, é tarefa necessária, mas que não vai deixar os adultos felizes. Ou seja, para que os jovens efetivamente construam um mundo melhor, o que se vislumbra não é a paz entre adultos e jovens, paz supostamente produzida pelos ritos de passagem mencionados por mim anteriormente; ao invés disso, o que se pode esperar é a espada, para usar termos bíblicos.

E, vejam só, não estou falando de algo – jovens comprometidos com a criação de um mundo melhor – que não esteja, já, acontecendo: a única novidade política interessante, na última década, é a novidade produzida por movimentos jovens, em reação à falência moral e material do mundo dos adultos: estou me referindo aos muitos movimentos de ocupação, como o Occupy Wall Street, que se multiplicou e se espalhou pelo mundo todo; às manifestações juvenis contra os partidos do status quo no México (o PAN e o PRI), além do movimento zapatista no estado de Chiapas; ao movimento Idle no More no Canadá, que, como o movimento zapatista, uniu a juventude às lideranças indígenas locais; ao 15-M, na Espanha; à participação dos jovens nos eventos ligados à chamada Primavera Árabe; à importância da Cúpula dos Povos, na Rio+20, onde se articularam ações políticas mais interessantes que a prevista paralisia política dos diplomatas que participaram da reunião oficial. Ainda no Brasil, está claro que podemos, através de movimentos descentralizados, combinando manifestações públicas e petições pela Internet, forçar o governo a ações específicas, como ocorreu no movimento em apoio aos índios Guarani Kaiowá do Mato Grosso do Sul.

Ou seja, a boa novidade é que não é necessário inventar as soluções e ferramentas para um mundo melhor a partir do zero; muitas coisas interessantes já estão em movimento. Basta que vocês sejam conscientes e autônomos para decidir como vão se posicionar no mundo. Achar que as sociedades sempre se organizaram integrando os jovens às estruturas existentes, e que, portanto, não há nada a fazer a esse respeito, é discurso dos que tem interesse em manter os jovens sob controle, ou seja, é discurso de quem efetivamente tem medo dos jovens – porque tem algo a perder com qualquer mudança no status quo.

“Mas esses movimentos que você mencionou não foram capazes de se constituir como alternativa política efetiva!”, dirão alguns. Esse tipo de afirmação revela, por parte de quem a enuncia, a dificuldade em pensar um mundo efetivamente diferente; é como se a única política possível é aquela que toma o poder, e não aquela que transforma o próprio poder em alguma outra coisa. O que é radicalmente interessante nesses movimentos jovens é a recusa que têm em querer tomar as estruturas de poder existentes. O poder, da forma que este se constitui e manifesta no âmago das sociedades ocidentais, é herança do mundo adulto falido, que a juventude não quer. O que os movimentos juvenis querem é construir um outro mundo, um outro poder, um  mundo que, inclusive, não está predefinido, não existe ainda – e tais jovens não tem medo de viver em incerteza e ambiguidade, posto que estas são marcas de todo momento de transição. Isso, aliás, é uma das coisas que gera ansiedade no mundo dos adultos, porque pode desorganizar o processo através do qual Estados e corporações criam riscos, incutem nas pessoas níveis elevados de medo, e apresentam-se, então, como protetores. Como a história não cansa de mostrar, gente sem medo é um atentado à soberania de Estados fundados no medo.

Enfim, o que eu estou propondo aqui não é que todos rejeitem esse ritual, que desistam do título de bacharel, mas, ao invés disso, que vocês tomem controle sobre a mágica do ritual. Que o título de bacharel não seja uma forma de anular a sua capacidade de efetivamente transformar o mundo, mesmo que à revelia do que querem seus pais, professores, patrões, médicos, juízes, o Estado. Ao contrário, que vocês, ao invés de serem vítimas do título de bacharel, ou seja, de terem que se transformar para caber na persona social com direito oficialmente ratificado de usá-lo, tomem para si a missão de definir o que será ser bacharel, em suas vidas, e na sociedade que irão criar.

Ou seja, e para finalizar, o que eu quero propor de forma substantiva aqui são duas coisas, que considero fundamentais para que vocês estejam preparados para participar na criação de um mundo efetivamente, e não apenas retoricamente, melhor. A primeira é: não acreditem em identidades. Ou, pelo menos, não sejam vítimas delas. Nunca se deixem reduzir a uma ou a um número restrito de possibilidade de ser e estar no mundo: vocês nunca serão apenas jornalistas, publicitários, editores, produtores, diretores, apresentadores ou locutores. Vocês sempre serão muito mais do que isso. As identidades têm o potencial de se transformar em uma forma de tirania, de fascismo, mesmo quando isso se manifesta na forma de conflitos psicológicos internos ao indivíduo. Cada um de vocês não é um, são muitos. As possibilidades para o futuro são infinitas; nunca se deixem convencer, com ou sem rito de passagem, do contrário.

O segundo conselho: não vivam com medo. Do Papai Noel e bicho papão em diante, o mundo adulto administra quem pode efetivamente transformar a sociedade usando o medo. O medo é paralisante, algo que não convém quando o objetivo é mudar algo, e muito menos quando se quer mudar algo grande, como o mundo. A obra de construir um mundo melhor passa, necessariamente, pela desarticulação da grande burocracia do medo que nos controla a todos. Nesse sentido, o trabalho de vocês não será fácil, dado que tal burocracia tem na mídia uma de suas principais ferramentas.

Uma decorrência prática destes dois conselhos – não se deixar levar pela ilusão das identidades ou pelo discurso paralisante do medo -, é que vocês devem estar prontos para enfrentar resistência. Ou seja, não é possível querer mudar o mundo e, ainda assim, viver buscando aplausos; quem efetivamente mudou o mundo, no passado, enfrentou desafios homéricos. A boa notícia é que ninguém mais precisa ser um Ulisses ou um Aquiles; ninguém está sozinho, o movimento já está em curso, e, como diz um dos seus principais expoentes, “somos legião”. Basta a cada um escolher como irá participar: como agente, participante efetivo, ou como observador distante, alguém que, mais tarde, será inevitavelmente arrastado pela corrente.

Neuroscientists Pinpoint Location of Fear Memory in Amygdala (Science Daily)

Jan. 27, 2013 — A rustle of undergrowth in the outback: it’s a sound that might make an animal or person stop sharply and be still, in the anticipation of a predator. That “freezing” is part of the fear response, a reaction to a stimulus in the environment and part of the brain’s determination of whether to be afraid of it.

An image showing neurons in the lateral subdivision of the central amygdala (CeL). In red are somatostain-positive (SOM+) neurons, which control fear; in green are another set of neurons known as PKC-delta cells. (Credit: Image courtesy of Bo Li)

A neuroscience group at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) led by Assistant Professor Bo Li Ph.D., together with collaborator Professor Z. Josh Huang Ph.D., have just released the results of a new study that examines the how fear responses are learned, controlled, and memorized. They show that a particular class of neurons in a subdivision of the amygdala plays an active role in these processes.

Locating fear memory in the amygdala

Previous research had indicated that structures inside the amygdalae, a pair of almond-shaped formations that sit deep within the brain and are known to be involved in emotion and reward-based behavior, may be part of the circuit that controls fear learning and memory. In particular, a region called the central amygdala, or CeA, was thought to be a passive relay for the signals relayed within this circuit.

Li’s lab became interested when they observed that neurons in a region of the central amygdala called the lateral subdivision, or CeL, “lit up” in a particular strain of mice while studying this circuit.

“Neuroscientists believed that changes in the strength of the connections onto neurons in the central amygdala must occur for fear memory to be encoded,” Li says, “but nobody had been able to actually show this.”

This led the team to further probe into the role of these neurons in fear responses and furthermore to ask the question: If the central amygdala stores fear memory, how is that memory trace read out and translated into fear responses?

To examine the behavior of mice undergoing a fear test the team first trained them to respond in a Pavlovian manner to an auditory cue. The mice began to “freeze,” a very common fear response, whenever they heard one of the sounds they had been trained to fear.

To study the particular neurons involved, and to understand them in relation to the fear-inducing auditory cue, the CSHL team used a variety of methods. One of these involved delivering a gene that encodes for a light-sensitive protein into the particular neurons Li’s group wanted to look at.

By implanting a very thin fiber-optic cable directly into the area containing the photosensitive neurons, the team was able to shine colored laser light with pinpoint accuracy onto the cells, and in this manner activate them. This is a technique known as optogenetics. Any changes in the behavior of the mice in response to the laser were then monitored.

A subset of neurons in the central amygdala controls fear expression

The ability to probe genetically defined groups of neurons was vital because there are two sets of neurons important in fear-learning and memory processes. The difference between them, the team learned, was in their release of message-carrying neurotransmitters into the spaces called synapses between neurons. In one subset of neurons, neurotransmitter release was enhanced; in another it was diminished. If measurements had been taken across the total cell population in the central amygdala, neurotransmitter levels from these two distinct sets of neurons would have been averaged out, and thus would not have been detected.

Li’s group found that fear conditioning induced experience-dependent changes in the release of neurotransmitters in excitatory synapses that connect with inhibitory neurons — neurons that suppress the activity of other neurons — in the central amygdala. These changes in the strength of neuronal connections are known as synaptic plasticity.

Particularly important in this process, the team discovered, were somatostatin-positive (SOM+) neurons. Somatostatin is a hormone that affects neurotransmitter release. Li and colleagues found that fear-memory formation was impaired when they prevent the activation of SOM+ neurons.

SOM+ neurons are necessary for recall of fear memories, the team also found. Indeed, the activity of these neurons alone proved sufficient to drive fear responses. Thus, instead of being a passive relay for the signals driving fear learning and responses in mice, the team’s work demonstrates that the central amygdala is an active component, and is driven by input from the lateral amygdala, to which it is connected.

“We find that the fear memory in the central amygdala can modify the circuit in a way that translates into action — or what we call the fear response,” explains Li.

In the future Li’s group will try to obtain a better understanding of how these processes may be altered in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disorders involving abnormal fear learning. One important goal is to develop pharmacological interventions for such disorders.

Li says more research is needed, but is hopeful that with the discovery of specific cellular markers and techniques such as optogenetics, a breakthrough can be made.

Journal Reference:

  1. Haohong Li, Mario A Penzo, Hiroki Taniguchi, Charles D Kopec, Z Josh Huang, Bo Li. Experience-dependent modification of a central amygdala fear circuitNature Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nn.3322

Fear and Driving Opportunity Motivated Changes in Driving Behavior After 9/11 (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 31, 2012) — A catastrophic event — such as a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, or market collapse — often strikes twice. There is the damage caused by the event itself, as lives are lost or left in ruin. But there is also the second act, catalyzed by our response to the catastrophic event. This second act has the potential to cause just as much damage as the first.

In the year following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there were approximately 1,600 more traffic fatalities in the United States than expected. This figure suggests the possibility that fear may have been a strong motivator for many people, leading them to choose driving over flying. This change in behavior, motivated by fear, may have ultimately led to additional deaths through traffic fatalities.

But fear does not tell the whole story. As Wolfgang Gaissmaier and Gerd Gigerenzer of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany, observe, the changes in driving behavior observed after 9/11 varied widely across different regions of the United States and did not just occur in those states closest to the attacks where fear was presumably strongest.

Gaissmaier and Gigerenzer hypothesized that another factor might have played a central role: driving opportunity. While fear provides a motivational explanation, in order for people to substitute driving for flying there had to be an environmental structure that allowed fear to manifest in a behavior change.

The researchers explore this hypothesis in a new research article to be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

They collected data on the number of miles driven and the number of traffic fatalities per month from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. They also gathered data on fear and driving opportunity. They used proximity to New York City to get an approximate measure of post-9/11 fear, as previous research had shown that proximity was linked with substantial stress reactions after the attacks. To measure driving opportunity, they assessed the length of nationally significant highways in each state in the National Highway System, divided by the number of state inhabitants and they also looked at the number of car registrations per inhabitant.

The results of the analyses show that people did in fact drive more following 9/11: Across all states, the average monthly increase in miles driven per inhabitant was 27.2 miles in the three months following the attacks. This increase was significantly greater than that observed in the same three-month period in the five years leading up to 2001.

Interestingly, people who were closer to New York City showed only a slight increase in driving. Increase in miles driven was strongly associated, however, with greater driving opportunity. Most importantly, increased driving was associated with an increase in traffic fatalities. These findings suggest that fear can lead people to engage in potentially dangerous behaviors, such as increased driving, but that understanding fear is not enough.

“To be able to foresee where the secondary effects of catastrophic events could have fatal consequences, we need to look at the environmental structures that allow fear to actually manifest in dangerous behaviors.”

According to Gaissmaier, understanding citizens’ behavior as a function of both the mind and the environment ultimately allows for two routes toward behavior change: altering people’s minds (through education or awareness campaigns) or altering people’s environments.

Strange History: Mass Hysteria Through the Years (Discovery)

Analysis by Benjamin Radford
Mon Feb 6, 2012 05:28 PM ET

The news media has been abuzz recently about a seemingly mysterious illness that has nearly two dozen students at LeRoy High School in western New York twitching and convulsing uncontrollably.

Most doctors and experts believe that the students are suffering from mass sociogenic illness, also known as mass hysteria. In these cases, psychological symptoms manifest as physical conditions.

Sociologist Robert Bartholomew, author of several books on mass hysteria including The Martians Have Landed: A History of Media-Driven Panics and Hoaxes, explained to Discovery News that “there are two main types of contagious conversion disorder. The most common in Western countries is triggered by extreme, sudden stress; usually a bad smell. Symptoms typically include dizziness, headaches, fainting and over-breathing, and resolve within about a day.”

In contrast, Bartholomew said, “The LeRoy students are experiencing the rarer, more serious type affecting muscle motor function and commonly involves twitching, shaking, facial tics, difficulty communicating and trance states. Symptoms appear slowly over weeks or months under exposure to longstanding stress, and typically take weeks or months to subside.”

Mass hysteria cases are more common than people realize and have been reported all over the world for centuries. Here’s a look at some famous — and bizarre — cases of mass hysteria in history.

The Mad Gasser of Mattoon

Many cases of mass hysteria are spawned by reports of strange or mysterious odors. One of the most famous cases occurred in 1944 when residents of Mattoon, Ill., reported that a “mad gasser” was loose in the small town.

It began with one woman named Aline Kearney, who smelled something odd outside her window. Soon she said her throat and lips were burning, and she began to panic when she felt her legs becoming paralyzed. She called police, and her symptoms soon subsided. Her husband, upon returning home later, reported glimpsing a shadowy figure lurking nearby. The “gas attack” (as it was assumed to be) on Mrs. Kearney was not only the gossip of the neighborhood but also reported in the local newspaper, and soon others in the small town reported odd odors and experiencing short-lived symptoms such as breathlessness, nausea, headache, dizziness and weakness. No “mad gasser” was ever found, and no trace of the mysterious gas was detected.

The French Meowing Nuns

Before 1900 many reports of mass hysteria occurred within the context of religious institutions. European convents in particular were often the settings for outbreaks. In one case the symptoms manifested in strange collective behavior; a source from 1844 reported that “a nun, in a very large convent in France, began to meow like a cat; shortly afterwards other nuns also meowed.

At last all the nuns meowed together every day at a certain time for several hours together.” The meowing went on until neighbors complained and soldiers were called, threatening to whip the nuns until they stopped meowing. During this era, belief in possession (such as by animals or demons, for example) was common, and cats in particular were suspected of being in league with Satan. These outbreaks of animal-like noises and behaviors usually lasted anywhere from a few days to a few months, though some came and went over the course of years.

The Pokémon Panic

A strange and seemingly inexplicable outbreak of bizarre behavior struck Japan in mid-December 1997, when thousands of Japanese schoolchildren experienced frightening seizures after watching an episode of the popular cartoon “Pokémon.” Intense flashes of light during the show triggered relatively harmless and brief seizures, nausea, and headaches. Doctors diagnosed some of the children with a rare, pre-existing condition called photosensitive epilepsy, in which bright flashing lights used in the cartoon can trigger the symptoms.

But experts were unable to explain what had happened to the remaining thousands of other children who reported symptoms; the vast majority of them did not have photosensitive epilepsy. Finally, the mystery was solved in 2001, when it was discovered that the symptoms found in most children were caused by mass hysteria, triggered by the initial wave of epileptic seizures.

The McMinnville School Poison Gas Episode

Nearly 200 students and teachers were hospitalized during a mysterious outbreak of illness at Warren County High School in McMinnville, Tenn., in November 1998. A local newspaper, the Southern Standard, ran the headline “Students Poisoned: Mysterious Fumes Sicken Almost 100 at High School.” It began when a teacher reported smelling a gasoline-like odor in her classroom that made her sick. A few of her students then also became sick, and the school was closed for testing.

No contamination was found, nor any medical or environmental cause for the symptoms, which included headache, dizziness, nausea and drowsiness. Following a clean bill of health, the school reopened, and soon a second cluster of students fell ill and closed down the school a second time. All recovered from the attack.

As these cases show, the LeRoy high school incident is only one of many strange episodes of mass sociogenic illness — and there will be more.

The world at seven billion (BBC)

27 October 2011 Last updated at 23:08 GMT

File photograph of newborn babies in Lucknow, India, in July 2009

As the world population reaches seven billion people, the BBC’s Mike Gallagher asks whether efforts to control population have been, as some critics claim, a form of authoritarian control over the world’s poorest citizens.

The temperature is some 30C. The humidity stifling, the noise unbearable. In a yard between two enormous tea-drying sheds, a number of dark-skinned women patiently sit, each accompanied by an unwieldy looking cloth sack. They are clad in colourful saris, but look tired and shabby. This is hardly surprising – they have spent most of the day in nearby plantation fields, picking tea that will net them around two cents a kilo – barely enough to feed their large families.

Vivek Baid thinks he knows how to help them. He runs the Mission for Population Control, a project in eastern India which aims to bring down high birth rates by encouraging local women to get sterilised after their second child.

As the world reaches an estimated seven billion people, people like Vivek say efforts to bring down the world’s population must continue if life on Earth is to be sustainable, and if poverty and even mass starvation are to be avoided.

There is no doubting their good intentions. Vivek, for instance, has spent his own money on the project, and is passionate about creating a brighter future for India.

But critics allege that campaigners like Vivek – a successful and wealthy male businessman – have tended to live very different lives from those they seek to help, who are mainly poor women.

These critics argue that rich people have imposed population control on the poor for decades. And, they say, such coercive attempts to control the world’s population often backfired and were sometimes harmful.

Population scare

Most historians of modern population control trace its roots back to the Reverend Thomas Malthus, an English clergyman born in the 18th Century who believed that humans would always reproduce faster than Earth’s capacity to feed them.

Giving succour to the resulting desperate masses would only imperil everyone else, he said. So the brutal reality was that it was better to let them starve.

‘Plenty is changed into scarcity’

Thomas Malthus

From Thomas Malthus’ Essay on Population, 1803 edition:

A man who is born into a world already possessed – if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food.

At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders, if he does not work upon the compassion of some of her guests. If these guests get up and make room for him, other intruders immediately appear demanding the same favour. The plenty that before reigned is changed into scarcity; and the happiness of the guests is destroyed by the spectacle of misery and dependence in every part of the hall.

Rapid agricultural advances in the 19th Century proved his main premise wrong, because food production generally more than kept pace with the growing population.

But the idea that the rich are threatened by the desperately poor has cast a long shadow into the 20th Century.

From the 1960s, the World Bank, the UN and a host of independent American philanthropic foundations, such as the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, began to focus on what they saw as the problem of burgeoning Third World numbers.

The believed that overpopulation was the primary cause of environmental degradation, economic underdevelopment and political instability.

Massive populations in the Third World were seen as presenting a threat to Western capitalism and access to resources, says Professor Betsy Hartmann of Hampshire College, Massachusetts, in the US.

“The view of the south is very much put in this Malthusian framework. It becomes just this powerful ideology,” she says.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson warned that the US might be overwhelmed by desperate masses, and he made US foreign aid dependent on countries adopting family planning programmes.

Other wealthy countries such as Japan, Sweden and the UK also began to devote large amounts of money to reducing Third World birth rates.

‘Unmet need’

What virtually everyone agreed was that there was a massive demand for birth control among the world’s poorest people, and that if they could get their hands on reliable contraceptives, runaway population growth might be stopped.

But with the benefit of hindsight, some argue that this so-called unmet need theory put disproportionate emphasis on birth control and ignored other serious needs.

Graph of world population figures

“It was a top-down solution,” says Mohan Rao, a doctor and public health expert at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“There was an unmet need for contraceptive services, of course. But there was also an unmet need for health services and all kinds of other services which did not get attention. The focus became contraception.”

Had the demographic experts worked at the grass-roots instead of imposing solutions from above, suggests Adrienne Germain, formerly of the Ford Foundation and then the International Women’s Health Coalition, they might have achieved a better picture of the dilemmas facing women in poor, rural communities.

“Not to have a full set of health services meant women were either unable to use family planning, or unwilling to – because they could still expect half their kids to die by the age of five,” she says.

India’s sterilisation ‘madness’

File photograph of Sanjay and Indira Gandhi in 1980

Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay (above) presided over a mass sterilisation campaign. From the mid-1970s, Indian officials were set sterilisation quotas, and sought to ingratiate themselves with superiors by exceeding them. Stories abounded of men being accosted in the street and taken away for the operation. The head of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, congratulated the Indian government on “moving effectively” to deal with high birth rates. Funding was increased, and the sterilising went on.

In Delhi, some 700,000 slum dwellers were forcibly evicted, and given replacement housing plots far from the city centre, frequently on condition that they were either sterilised or produced someone else for the operation. In poorer agricultural areas, whole villages were rounded up for sterilisation. When residents of one village protested, an official is said to have threatened air strikes in retaliation.

“There was a certain madness,” recalls Nina Puri of the Family Planning Association of India. “All rationality was lost.”

Us and them

In 1968, the American biologist Paul Ehrlich caused a stir with his bestselling book, The Population Bomb, which suggested that it was already too late to save some countries from the dire effects of overpopulation, which would result in ecological disaster and the deaths of hundreds of millions of people in the 1970s.

Instead, governments should concentrate on drastically reducing population growth. He said financial assistance should be given only to those nations with a realistic chance of bringing birth rates down. Compulsory measures were not to be ruled out.

Western experts and local elites in the developing world soon imposed targets for reductions in family size, and used military analogies to drive home the urgency, says Matthew Connelly, a historian of population control at Columbia University in New York.

“They spoke of a war on population growth, fought with contraceptive weapons,” he says. “The war would entail sacrifices, and collateral damage.”

Such language betrayed a lack of empathy with their subjects, says Ms Germain: “People didn’t talk about people. They talked of acceptors and users of family planning.”

Emergency measures

Critics of population control had their say at the first ever UN population conference in 1974.

Karan Singh, India’s health minister at the time, declared that “development is the best contraceptive”.

But just a year later, Mr Singh’s government presided over one of the most notorious episodes in the history of population control.

In June 1975, the Indian premier, Indira Gandhi, declared a state of emergency after accusations of corruption threatened her government. Her son Sanjay used the measure to introduce radical population control measures targeted at the poor.

The Indian emergency lasted less than two years, but in 1975 alone, some eight million Indians – mainly poor men – were sterilised.

Yet, for all the official programmes and coercion, many poor women kept on having babies.

And where they did not, it arguably had less to do with coercive population control than with development, just as Karan Singh had argued in 1974, says historian Matt Connelly.

For example, in India, a disparity in birth rates could already be observed between the impoverished northern states and more developed southern regions like Kerala, where women were more likely to be literate and educated, and their offspring more likely to be healthy.

Women there realised that they could have fewer births and still expect to see their children survive into adulthood.

China: ‘We will not allow your baby to live’

Steven Mosher was a Stanford University anthropologist working in rural China who witnessed some of the early, disturbing moments of Beijing’s One Child Policy.

“I remember very well the evening of 8 March, 1980. The local Communist Party official in charge of my village came over waving a government document. He said: ‘The Party has decided to impose a cap of 1% on population growth this year.’ He said: ‘We’re going to decide who’s going to be allowed to continue their pregnancy and who’s going to be forced to terminate their pregnancy.’ And that’s exactly what they did.”

“These were women in the late second and third trimester of pregnancy. There were several women just days away from giving birth. And in my hearing, a party official said: ‘Do not think that you can simply wait until you go into labour and give birth, because we will not allow your baby to live. You will go home alone’.”

Total control

By now, this phenomenon could be observed in another country too – one that would nevertheless go on to impose the most draconian population control of all.

The One Child Policy is credited with preventing some 400 million births in China, and remains in place to this day. In 1983 alone, more than 16 million women and four million men were sterilised, and 14 million women received abortions.

Assessed by numbers alone, it is said to be by far the most successful population control initiative. Yet it remains deeply controversial, not only because of the human suffering it has caused.

A few years after its inception, the policy was relaxed slightly to allow rural couples two children if their first was not a boy. Boy children are prized, especially in the countryside where they provide labour and care for parents in old age.

But modern technology allows parents to discover the sex of the foetus, and many choose to abort if they are carrying a girl. In some regions, there is now a serious imbalance between men and women.

Moreover, since Chinese fertility was already in decline at the time the policy was implemented, some argue that it bears less responsibility for China’s falling birth rate than its supporters claim.

“I don’t think they needed to bring it down further,” says Indian demographer AR Nanda. “It would have happened at its own slow pace in another 10 years.”

Backlash

In the early 1980s, objections to the population control movement began to grow, especially in the United States.

In Washington, the new Reagan administration removed financial support for any programmes that involved abortion or sterilisation.

“If you give women the tools they need – education, employment, contraception, safe abortion – then they will make the choices that benefit society”

Adrienne Germain

The broad alliance to stem birth rates was beginning to dissolve and the debate become more polarised along political lines.

While some on the political right had moral objections to population control, some on the left saw it as neo-colonialism.

Faith groups condemned it as a Western attack on religious values, but women’s groups feared changes would mean poor women would be even less well-served.

By the time of a major UN conference on population and development in Cairo in 1994, women’s groups were ready to strike a blow for women’s rights, and they won.

The conference adopted a 20-year plan of action, known as the Cairo consensus, which called on countries to recognise that ordinary women’s needs – rather than demographers’ plans – should be at the heart of population strategies.

After Cairo

Today’s record-breaking global population hides a marked long-term trend towards lower birth rates, as urbanisation, better health care, education and access to family planning all affect women’s choices.

With the exception of sub-Saharan Africa and some of the poorest parts of India, we are now having fewer children than we once did – in some cases, failing even to replace ourselves in the next generation. And although total numbers are set to rise still further, the peak is now in sight.

Chinese poster from the 1960s of mother and baby, captioned: Practicing birth control is beneficial for the protection of the health of mother and childChina promoted birth control before implementing its one-child policy

Assuming that this trend continues, total numbers will one day level off, and even fall. As a result, some believe the sense of urgency that once surrounded population control has subsided.

The term population control itself has fallen out of fashion, as it was deemed to have authoritarian connotations. Post-Cairo, the talk is of women’s rights and reproductive rights, meaning the right to a free choice over whether or not to have children.

According to Adrienne Germain, that is the main lesson we should learn from the past 50 years.

“I have a profound conviction that if you give women the tools they need – education, employment, contraception, safe abortion – then they will make the choices that benefit society,” she says.

“If you don’t, then you’ll just be in an endless cycle of trying to exert control over fertility – to bring it up, to bring it down, to keep it stable. And it never comes out well. Never.”

Nevertheless, there remain to this day schemes to sterilise the less well-off, often in return for financial incentives. In effect, say critics, this amounts to coercion, since the very poor find it hard to reject cash.

“The people proposing this argue ‘Don’t worry, everything’ s fine now we have voluntary programmes on the Cairo model’,” says Betsy Hartmann.

“But what they don’t understand is the profound difference in power between rich and poor. The people who provide many services in poor areas are already prejudiced against the people they serve.”

Work in progress

For Mohan Rao, it is an example of how even the Cairo consensus fails to take account of the developing world.

“Cairo had some good things,” he says. “However Cairo was driven largely by First World feminist agendas. Reproductive rights are all very well, but [there needs to be] a whole lot of other kinds of enabling rights before women can access reproductive rights. You need rights to food, employment, water, justice and fair wages. Without all these you cannot have reproductive rights.”

Perhaps, then, the humanitarian ideals of Cairo are still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, Paul Ehrlich has also amended his view of the issue.

If he were to write his book today, “I wouldn’t focus on the poverty-stricken masses”, he told the BBC.

“I would focus on there being too many rich people. It’s crystal clear that we can’t support seven billion people in the style of the wealthier Americans.”

Mike Gallager is the producer of the radio programme Controlling People on BBC World Service

Where do you fit into 7 billion?

The world’s population is expected to hit seven billion in the next few weeks. After growing very slowly for most of human history, the number of people on Earth has more than doubled in the last 50 years. Where do you fit into this story of human life? Fill in your date of birth here to find out.

The Political Effects of Existential Fear (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Oct. 20, 2011) — Why did the approval ratings of President George W. Bush — who was perceived as indecisive before September 11, 2001 — soar over 90 percent after the terrorist attacks? Because Americans were acutely aware of their own deaths. That is one lesson from the psychological literature on “mortality salience” reviewed in a new article called “The Politics of Mortal Terror.”

The paper, by psychologists Florette Cohen of the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island and Sheldon Solomon of Skidmore College, appears in October’s Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

The fear people felt after 9/11 was real, but it also made them ripe for psychological manipulation, experts say. “We all know that fear tactics have been used by politicians for years to sway votes,” says Cohen. Now psychological research offers insight into the chillingly named “terror management.”

The authors cite studies showing that awareness of mortality tends to make people feel more positive toward heroic, charismatic figures and more punitive toward wrongdoers. In one study, Cohen and her colleagues asked participants to think of death and then gave them statements from three fictional political figures. One was charismatic: he appealed to the specialness of the person and the group to which she belonged. One was a technocrat, offering practical solutions to problems. The third stressed the value of participation in democracy. After thinking about death, support for the charismatic leader shot up eightfold.

Even subliminal suggestions of mortality have similar effects. Subjects who saw the numbers 911 or the letters WTC had higher opinions of a Bush statement about the necessity of invading Iraq. This was true of both liberals and conservatives.

Awareness of danger and death can bias even peaceful people toward war or aggression. Iranian students in a control condition preferred the statement of a person preaching understanding and the value of human life over a jihadist call to suicide bombing. But primed to think about death, they grew more positive toward the bomber. Some even said that they might consider becoming a martyr.

As time goes by and the memory of danger and death grows fainter, however, “morality salience” tends to polarize people politically, leading them to cling to their own beliefs and demonize others who hold opposing beliefs — seeing in them the cause of their own endangerment.

The psychological research should make voters wary of emotional political appeals and even of their own emotions in response, Cohen says. “We encourage all citizens to vote with their heads rather than their hearts. Become an educated voter. Look at the candidate’s positions and platforms. Look at who you are voting for and what they stand for.”

SINCE SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 . . . (SSRC)

10 years after september 11 – A SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL ESSAY FORUM

By Veena Das

A decade of intense theorizing on the forms of violence and human degradation, on global connectivity, on demands that scholarship be done in “real time” . . . a sense of urgency . . . disciplines are aggressively asked to prove their relevance . . . a deep disquiet on the part of many radical scholars and public intellectuals that the American public is increasingly becoming complicit in projects of warfare. We ask, are our senses being so retrained now that we cannot see the suffering of others or hear their cries? We declare with anguish that whole populations are defined as nothing but targets for bombing . . . as those whose deaths do not count, and hence those dead literally need not be counted. There is a desperation to hone in on what is new—perhaps, some theorize, what we now have is “horror” and not “terror” . . . perhaps, say others, what is lost is not only meaning but any trust in what might count as real.

Despite repeated calls for invention of new vocabularies, my own sense is that we have yet to come to terms with the violence of the past and that we have allowed our scholarly terms to be defined in a manner that we are becoming trapped in, terms that are already given in the questions that we ask. After all, do we need to be reminded that the single-most important factor in the decline of the total number of wars since 1942 was the end of colonial wars? Or that in the 1990s the region in which the highest death toll occurred was sub-Saharan Africa, and that it was the indirect death through disease and malnutrition that contributed to the enormity of the violence? I use the collective first-person pronoun to include myself within this trap of not being quite able to define what the right questions should be.

Ten years ago, when I contributed a short reflection on September 11 to the SSRC’s forum, something of this disquiet I feel about the mode of theorizing was already present. I argued that in the political rhetoric that circulated right after September 11, with its talk of attacks on the values of civilization, the American nation was seen to embody universal values—hence the talk was not of many terrorisms with which several countries had lived for more than thirty years but of one grand terrorism, Islamic terrorism. If I am allowed to loop back to my words, I asked, “What could this mean except that while terrorist forms of warfare in other spaces in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East were against forms of particularism, the attack on America is seen as an attack on humanity itself?” Perhaps we should ask of ourselves now the permission to be released from the grip of this master trope of September 11 that organizes a whole discourse, both conservative and radical, in terms of terrorism as the gripping drama of our times. We might then ask, what other questions have been under discussion among different communities of scholars and how might debate be widened to take account of these discussions?

One point I might put forward as a candidate for discussion is how affect is invested in some terms that come to be the signifiers of the pressing problems of a particular decade but then are dropped as if their force has been exhausted by new discoveries. When these terms drop out of scholarly circulation, do they still have lives that are lived in other corners of the world or in the lives of individuals who continue to give them expression? Consider the history of the term “ethnic cleansing,” which came to signify and organize much discussion in the nineties as referring to the pathology of what was termed as ethno-nationalism. As is well known, the term emerged in the summer of 1992 during the tragic events of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the emergence of new nation-states that were making claims for international recognition. Although the composite term “ethnic cleansing” came to be used only then, the idea of “cleaning” a territory by killing the local inhabitants and making it safe for military occupation was known in colonial wars as well as expressed extensively in Latin America with reference to undesirable groups, such as prostitutes, enemy collaborators, and the vagrant poor.

Norman Naimark has made the point that ethnic cleansing happens in the shadow of war. He cites the examples of the Greek expulsion as a result of the Greco-Turkish war, the intensification of ethnic cleansing when NATO bombing started in Kosovo in March 1999, and Stalin’s brutal dealings with the Chechen-Ingush and Crimean Tartars during the Second World War.1 A chilling aspect of ethnic cleansing is its totalistic character. As Naimark puts it:

The goal is to remove every member of the targeted nation; very few exceptions to ethnic cleansing are allowed. In premodern cases of assaults of one people on another, those attacked could give up, change sides, convert, pay tribute, or join the attackers. Ethnic cleansing, driven by the ideology of integral nationalism and the military and technological power of the modern state, rarely forgives, makes exceptions, or allows people to slip through the cracks.

Yet a concept that was said to be central to explaining major mass atrocities is now rarely encountered—except perhaps in international law discussions on the distinction between genocide and ethnic cleansing. Are the kinds of mass atrocities that have occurred since September 11 not amenable to discussion under any of the earlier terms? Do subjectivities shift so quickly? Are issues of intentionality as providing the criteria for distinguishing between genocide and ethnic cleansing already resolved? What is at stake in the fact that ethnic cleansing is a perpetrator’s term while genocide is a term that privileges the experience of the victims? What kind of footing in the world do enunciations made on behalf of all sides in conflicts that draw on such concepts as human rights and human dignity have?

While one can understand why the media might have moved on to other stories, have we as scholars come to terms with why some concepts disappear from our vocabularies so quickly? I want to suggest that a long-term perspective on how we come to speak of violence—the appearance and disappearance of different terms—provides a repertoire of concepts to be mined for understanding how representation of violence in the public sphere was closely tied up with the West’s self-definition that in turn defined the twists and turns in the social sciences. Ethnic cleansing in the nineties was widely understood as the violence of the other just as terrorism now is understood as the violence that the other perpetrates. September 11 and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan then become events that need to be placed in the long history of warfare that has generated the concepts of social science—concepts that cannot be divested of their political plenitude even as we recognize that the technologies of war have changed considerably.

Are there other discussions on war that are not quite within the discursive fields that dominate the post–September 11 scenario and the notion of Islamic terrorism? I find it salutary to think that other theoretical discussions are taking place that are outside this frame of reference. For instance, the prolonged civil war in Sri Lanka, in which both Sinhala soldiers and Tamil militants engaged in killing, has led to discussions on the relation between Buddhism and violence and whether there are strains of Buddhism, especially within the Mahayana school, that make room for the exercise of violence. Interestingly, the issues here are not those of justifying warfare but rather of dealing with the anxieties about bad karma generated by the acts of violence.

A sustained analysis of what enabled such developments as samurai Zen, or soldier Zen, to appear in Japan or how it is that Buddhism could find a home within kingdoms as diverse as the Indians, the Mongols, the Chinese, and the Thai deepens our understanding of violence and nonviolence precisely because it has the potential to change the angle of our vision.2 Similar discussions from within other traditions, both religious and secular, would help to break the monopoly of concepts (biopolitics, state of exception, homo sacer) that are now routinely used to understand the world. This hope is not an expression of sheer nostalgia for non-Western concepts but a plea to cultivate some attentiveness to those discourses that are (or could be) part of the history of our disciplines. Scholarly discourse cannot simply mirror the ephemeral character of media stories—even when a particular kind of violence disappears, the institutions that were put in place for dealing with it continue to have lives of their own. The braiding of what is new and what is enduring might then define how we come to pose questions that are not simply corollaries of the common sense of our times.


Veena Das is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology and professor of humanities at the Johns Hopkins University. Her most recent books are Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinaryand Sociology and Anthropology of Economic Life: The Moral Embedding of Economic Action (ed., with R. K. Das).

  1. Norman M. Naimark, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
  2. See Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, eds., Buddhist Warfare (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).