Arquivo da tag: Risco

The Most Common Pain Relief Drug in The World Induces Risky Behaviour, Study Suggests (Science Alert)

Peter Dockrill

9 September 2020

One of the most consumed drugs in the US – and the most commonly taken analgesic worldwide – could be doing a lot more than simply taking the edge off your headache, new evidence suggests.

Acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol and sold widely under the brand names Tylenol and Panadol, also increases risk-taking, according to a new study that measured changes in people’s behaviour when under the influence of the common over-the-counter medication.

“Acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities – they just don’t feel as scared,” says neuroscientist Baldwin Way from The Ohio State University.

“With nearly 25 percent of the population in the US taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society.”

The findings add to a recent body of research suggesting that acetaminophen’s effects on pain reduction also extend to various psychological processes, lowering people’s receptivity to hurt feelings, experiencing reduced empathy, and even blunting cognitive functions.

In a similar way, the new research suggests people’s affective ability to perceive and evaluate risks can be impaired when they take acetaminophen. While the effects might be slight, they’re definitely worth noting, given acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in America, found in over 600 different kinds of over-the-counter and prescription medicines.

In a series of experiments involving over 500 university students as participants, Way and his team measured how a single 1,000 mg dose of acetaminophen (the recommended maximum adult single dosage) randomly assigned to participants affected their risk-taking behaviour, compared against placebos randomly given to a control group.

In each of the experiments, participants had to pump up an uninflated balloon on a computer screen, with each single pump earning imaginary money. Their instructions were to earn as much imaginary money as possible by pumping the balloon as much as possible, but to make sure not to pop the balloon, in which case they would lose the money.

The results showed that the students who took acetaminophen engaged in significantly more risk-taking during the exercise, relative to the more cautious and conservative placebo group. On the whole, those on acetaminophen pumped (and burst) their balloons more than the controls.

“If you’re risk-averse, you may pump a few times and then decide to cash out because you don’t want the balloon to burst and lose your money,” Way says.

“But for those who are on acetaminophen, as the balloon gets bigger, we believe they have less anxiety and less negative emotion about how big the balloon is getting and the possibility of it bursting.”

In addition to the balloon simulation, participants also filled out surveys during two of the experiments, rating the level of risk they perceived in various hypothetical scenarios, such as betting a day’s income on a sporting event, bungee jumping off a tall bridge, or driving a car without a seatbelt.

In one of the surveys, acetaminophen consumption did appear to reduce perceived risk compared to the control group, although in another similar survey, the same effect wasn’t observed.

Overall, however, based on an average of results across the various tests, the team concludes that there is a significant relationship between taking acetaminophen and choosing more risk, even if the observed effect can be slight.

That said, they acknowledge the drug’s apparent effects on risk-taking behaviour could also be interpreted via other kinds of psychological processes, such as reduced anxiety, perhaps.

“It may be that as the balloon increases in size, those on placebo feel increasing amounts of anxiety about a potential burst,” the researchers explain.

“When the anxiety becomes too much, they end the trial. Acetaminophen may reduce this anxiety, thus leading to greater risk taking.”

Exploring such psychological alternative explanations for this phenomenon – as well as investigating the biological mechanisms responsible for acetaminophen’s effects on people’s choices in situations like this – should be addressed in future research, the team says.

While they’re at it, scientists no doubt will also have future opportunities to further investigate the role and efficacy of acetaminophen in pain relief more broadly, after studies in recent years found that in many medical scenarios, the drug can be ineffective at pain relief, and sometimes is no better than a placebo, in addition to inviting other kinds of health problems.

Despite the seriousness of those findings, acetaminophen nonetheless remains one of the most used medications in the world, considered an essential medicine by the World Health Organisation, and recommended by the CDC as the primary drug you should probably take to ease symptoms if you think you might have coronavirus.

In light of what we’re finding out about acetaminophen, we might want to rethink some of that advice, Way says.

“Perhaps someone with mild COVID-19 symptoms may not think it is as risky to leave their house and meet with people if they’re taking acetaminophen,” Way says.

“We really need more research on the effects of acetaminophen and other over-the-counter drugs on the choices and risks we take.”

The findings are reported in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

A Professor of Disasters and Health on Covid-19 (Nautilus)

Posted By Ilan Kelman on Mar 16, 2020

It is no mystery why pandemics happen. Those with the knowledge, wisdom, and resources must choose to decide to avoid these disasters that afflict everyone.Photograph by Pavel L Photo and Video / Shutterstock

A new virus sweeps the world, closing borders, shutting down arts and sports, and killing thousands of people. Is this coronavirus pandemic, with the disease named Covid-19, simply a natural disaster, a culling of overpopulation as suggested by callous commentators who seem to revel in human misery? Is it nature’s rebuttal to human-caused climate change, forcing us to reduce fossil fuel-based transportation and overconsumption (apart from toilet paper)? The answer is neither. As with almost all disasters, the Covid-19 disaster is the outcome of human choices.

The Earth, with its microorganisms, tectonic activity, powerful weather, and other phenomena, has long posed dangers to humans. We know this, so it is up to us to deal with it. Sometimes we manage and sometimes we do not. Sometimes we are forced into situations with few choices, such as impoverished people living on the slopes of Mexico City’s volcano or in the subsiding floodplains of Jakarta. Not everyone can or should be a planner or engineer, to avoid houses built on soils prone to liquefying in an earthquake or offices lacking basic seismic reinforcement. Sometimes, we need to trust the zoning regulations and building codes—and their monitoring and enforcement—to keep us safe. Too often, gaps are revealed only after people have died, from the collapse of the CTV Building in Christchurch, New Zealand, during the 2011 earthquake, to New Orleans flooding during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Those who suffer most, from Australia’s 2020 bushfires to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, tend to have the fewest options for countering their vulnerabilities which were created by others.

We know that, by disturbing ecosystems, we make pandemics beyond Covid-19 more likely to occur.

When we are vulnerable to nature, it is because societal actions set people up to be harmed by nature. As we cannot blame nature for disasters, we should avoid the phrase “natural disaster.” They are just “disasters.” It could be shoddily built infrastructure, breaking or not having planning regulations, not being able to afford or not having insurance, poor communication of warnings, or fearing assault in an evacuation shelter. It is the same with disease. 

The World Health Organization of the United Nations was lambasted for being far too slow to observe and respond to what became the largest Ebola epidemic yet known, in West Africa between 2014 and 2016. In the years before, donor countries to the WHO had slashed the funds available, particularly hitting the division responsible for surveilling, monitoring, preparing for, and responding to possible epidemics. Experienced staff departed, communication lines to health systems around the world slackened, and institutional memory faded. Not that the UN’s organizations are perfect otherwise, displaying their own operational failings alongside geographic and cultural biases. Plus, many of the Ebola-struck countries—for instance, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—have long lacked adequate health systems, with the governments mired in corruption, conflict, external exploitation, and incompetence. Deficient local, national, and international governance for epidemics meant that Ebola spread far faster and farther afield than it would have if health systems had been supported. A further illustration comes from infected people ending up in the United Kingdom and the United States, yet neither country experienced an Ebola outbreak nor was there ever a pandemic. When it was decided that the spread of Ebola should be stopped, knowledge, resources, and actions were harnessed to stop the spread of Ebola. Earlier choices in West Africa, especially long-term backing for health systems, would have curtailed the disease far sooner.

And so we come to Covid-19. When a strange form of pneumonia appeared in patients in Wuhan, China in December 2019, medical staff reported it and soon identified the origin in one market. They isolated the new virus and publicly announced its genetic sequence. Authorities gave assurances that transmission between humans was not possible and that the virus was under control, despite evidence that neither was the case. Medical staff in Wuhan noticing the sickness explained that they were not permitted to broadcast their knowledge about it. Ai Fen, an emergency department doctor, was reprimanded and told to keep quiet. An ophthalmologist, Li Wenliang, was intimidated and silenced. He eventually died of coronavirus, with the media adorning him with the poignant label of “whistle blower.”

It is a choice to institute what is now referred to as a “cover up” when a potential public health threat emerges. It is a choice not to listen to health professionals hired in key positions when they are trying to save lives through public health measures. It is a choice to have opaque dissemination procedures and to try to shut down information flow. Now that the pandemic has been created by choices early on, it is a choice that many others are making to panic-buy soap while others are not bothering to wash their hands properly or to stop touching their food or face with unwashed hands. So much of disease is about human behavior. This in no way diminishes the importance of the essential medical responses. Without vaccines, smallpox, polio, rinderpest, measles, mumps, and a whole host of other lethal diseases would continue to run rampant. Along with antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, vaccines not only save lives daily, but also reduce the costs of running health systems by stopping illness.

Health systems must have technologies and tools—dialysis machines, isolation wards, defibrillators, and stents within the dizzying array—but must not stop at technical means and buildings. Any health system must be underpinned by people, training, and experience—exactly what many of the authorities disdained when people in Wuhan suddenly fell ill. Earlier choices in China might have curtailed the spread of Covid-19 before it morphed into a pandemic. Even basic hygiene when dealing with animals might have prevented the virus from jumping species to humans.

Today, diseases targeted for eradication include rubella, measles, dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease), and polio. The latter two remain endemic in conflict zones, often reappearing due to war, like polio did in 2013, in Syria, where it had disappeared a decade previously. Similarly, dracunculiasis is close to being eradicated, stubbornly remaining in areas wracked by violence including Chad and South Sudan. Choices to target these diseases are nonetheless preventing epidemics of them, with eradication in sight. London and Paris famously eliminated cholera in the 19th century by building sewage systems, among other actions. Malaria used to be prevalent in southern England and across the US. Dedicated efforts eradicated it and continue to prevent its re-introduction, despite cases from travelers and near international airports. We can continue these efforts by choice or we can let malaria return.

We know that, by disturbing ecosystems, we make pandemics beyond Covid-19 more likely to occur. “In Africa, we see a lot of incursion driven by oil or mineral extraction in areas that typically had few human populations,” Dennis Carroll, an infectious disease researcher, told Nautilus editor Kevin Berger. “The problem is not only moving workers and establishing camps in these domains, but building roads that allow for even more movement of populations. Roads also allow for the movement of wildlife animals, which may be part of a food trade, to make their way into urban settlements. All these dramatic changes increase the potential spread of infection.” It is no mystery why pandemics happen. Those with the knowledge, wisdom, and resources must choose to decide to avoid these disasters that afflict everyone.

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London and the author of Disaster By Choice: How Our Actions Turn Natural Hazards into Catastrophes. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram @IlanKelman.

Paying for pain: What motivates tough mudders and other weekend warriors? (Science Daily)

March 22, 2017
Journal of Consumer Research
Why do people pay for experiences deliberately marketed as painful? According to a new study, consumers will pay big money for extraordinary — even painful — experiences to offset the physical malaise resulting from today’s sedentary lifestyles.

Why do people pay for experiences deliberately marketed as painful? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers will pay big money for extraordinary — even painful — experiences to offset the physical malaise resulting from today’s sedentary lifestyles.

“How do we explain that on the one hand consumers spend billions of dollars every year on analgesics and opioids, while exhausting and painful experiences such as obstacle races and ultra-marathons are gaining in popularity?” asked authors Rebecca Scott (Cardiff University), Julien Cayla (Nanyang Technological University), and Bernard Cova (KEDGE Business School).

Tough Mudder is a grueling adventure challenge involving about 25 military-style obstacles that participants — known as Mudders — must overcome in half a day. Among others, its events entail running through torrents of mud, plunging into freezing water, and crawling through 10,000 volts of electric wires. Injuries have included spinal damage, strokes, heart attacks, and even death.

Through extensive interviews with Mudders, the authors learned that pain helps individuals deal with the reduced physicality of office life. Through sensory intensification, pain brings the body into sharp focus, allowing participants who spend much of their time sitting in front of computers to rediscover their corporeality.

In addition, the authors write, pain facilitates escape and provides temporary relief from the burdens of self-awareness. Electric shocks and exposure to icy waters might be painful, but they also allow participants to escape the demands and anxieties of modern life.

“By leaving marks and wounds, painful experiences help us create the story of a fulfilled life spent exploring the limits of the body,” the authors conclude. “The proliferation of videos recording painful experiences such as Tough Mudder happens at least partly because a fulfilled life also means exploring the body in its various possibilities.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Rebecca Scott, Julien Cayla, Bernard Cova. Selling Pain to the Saturated SelfJournal of Consumer Research, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/jcr/ucw071

Um mapa do risco no mundo (Pesquisa Fapesp)

Com exceção do Japão, os países pobres e em desenvolvimento são os mais vulneráveis a desastres naturais 


Por estar sujeito a fortes terremotos e inundações causadas por tsunamis, o Japão é o único país desenvolvido que apresenta risco muito alto de ser afetado por cataclismos, segundo a edição de 2016 do World Risk Report, publicação organizada pela Universidade das Nações Unidas, agência alemã Alliance Development Works e Universidade de Stuttgart. A nação asiática figura na 17ª posição do índice mundial de risco a desastres, que classifica 171 países em função da possibilidade de serem alvo de cinco tipos de eventos extremos: secas, inundações, ciclones ou tempestades, terremotos e aumento do nível do mar.

O índice lista as áreas do globo em ordem decrescente de vulnerabilidade a desastres e os separa em cinco categorias. Cada uma delas é composta por 20% do total de países, que são classificados como sendo de risco muito alto, alto, médio, baixo ou muito baixo. O indicador final é calculado por meio da análise de 28 parâmetros geoclimáticos e socioeconômicos, como a quantidade de pessoas expostas a desastres, a renda e a educação da população, a capacidade de mitigar o impacto de eventos extremos e de se adaptar a mudanças.

Vanuatu, um pequeno arquipélago do Pacífico sul distante 1.700 quilômetros a leste da Austrália, com 250 mil habitantes, é o país mais arriscado do mundo, o número 1 do índice. Está sujeito a terremotos, ciclones e pode ser coberto pelas águas se o nível do mar aumentar. Isso sem contar o vulcanismo, que não entra no cálculo do índice. O segundo lugar é ocupado por Tonga, um arquipélago da Polinésia, e o terceiro, pelas Filipinas. O Haiti, onde o furacão Matthew matou 1.300 pessoas e desalojou 35 mil em outubro, aparece em 21º lugar da lista. O Brasil ocupa a 123ª posição e está classificado na categoria dos países de baixo risco, como os Estados Unidos, a Itália, a Argentina e o Reino Unido. “Nenhum índice baseado em desastres naturais é perfeito”, comenta Lucí Hidalgo Nunes, da Unicamp. “De acordo com as variáveis usadas e o peso dado a elas, as classificações mudam. Mas, certamente, o Brasil não é um dos países em pior situação.”

Nasa aims to move Earth (The Guardian)

Scientists’ answer to global warming: nudge the planet farther from Sun

Special report: global warming

, science editor

Sunday 10 June 2001 Last modified on Friday 1 January 2016 

Scientists have found an unusual way to prevent our planet overheating: move it to a cooler spot.

All you have to do is hurtle a few comets at Earth, and its orbit will be altered. Our world will then be sent spinning into a safer, colder part of the solar system.

This startling idea of improving our interplanetary neighbourhood is the brainchild of a group of Nasa engineers and American astronomers who say their plan could add another six billion years to the useful lifetime of our planet – effectively doubling its working life.

‘The technology is not at all far-fetched,’ said Dr Greg Laughlin, of the Nasa Ames Research Center in California. ‘It involves the same techniques that people now suggest could be used to deflect asteroids or comets heading towards Earth. We don’t need raw power to move Earth, we just require delicacy of planning and manoeuvring.’

The plan put forward by Dr Laughlin, and his colleagues Don Korycansky and Fred Adams, involves carefully directing a comet or asteroid so that it sweeps close past our planet and transfers some of its gravitational energy to Earth.

‘Earth’s orbital speed would increase as a result and we would move to a higher orbit away from the Sun,’ Laughlin said.

Engineers would then direct their comet so that it passed close to Jupiter or Saturn, where the reverse process would occur. It would pick up energy from one of these giant planets. Later its orbit would bring it back to Earth, and the process would be repeated.

In the short term, the plan provides an ideal solution to global warming, although the team was actually concerned with a more drastic danger. The sun is destined to heat up in about a billion years and so ‘seriously compromise’ our biosphere – by frying us.

Hence the group’s decision to try to save Earth. ‘All you have to do is strap a chemical rocket to an asteroid or comet and fire it at just the right time,’ added Laughlin. ‘It is basic rocket science.’

The plan has one or two worrying aspects, however. For a start, space engineers would have to be very careful about how they directed their asteroid or comet towards Earth. The slightest miscalculation in orbit could fire it straight at Earth – with devastating consequences.

There is also the vexed question of the Moon. As the current issue of Scientific American points out, if Earth was pushed out of its current position it is ‘most likely the Moon would be stripped away from Earth,’ it states, radically upsetting out planet’s climate.

These criticisms are accepted by the scientists. ‘Our investigation has shown just how delicately Earth is poised within the solar system,’ Laughlin admitted. ‘Nevertheless, our work has practical implications. Our calculations show that to get Earth to a safer, distant orbit, it would have to pass through unstable zones and would need careful nurturing and nudging. Any alien astronomers observing our solar system would know that something odd had occurred, and would realise an intelligent lifeform was responsible.

‘And the same goes for us. When we look at other solar systems, and detect planets around other suns – which we are now beginning to do – we may see that planet-moving has occurred. It will give us our first evidence of the handiwork of extraterrestrial beings.’

Uma década de avanços em biotecnologia (Folha de S.Paulo)

11 de fevereiro de 2016

Lei de Biossegurança completa 10 anos dialogando com as mais recentes descobertas da ciência

Walter Colli – Instituto de Química, Universidade de São Paulo

Ao longo de 2015, uma silenciosa revolução biotecnológica aconteceu no Brasil. Neste ano a Comissão Técnica Nacional de Biossegurança (CTNBio) analisou e aprovou um número recorde de tecnologias aplicáveis à agricultura, medicina e produção de energia. O trabalho criterioso dos membros da CTNBio avaliou como seguros para a saúde humana e animal e para o ambiente 19 novos transgênicos, dentre os quais 13 plantas, três vacinas e três microrganismos ou derivados.

A CTNBio, priorizando o rigor nas análises de biossegurança e atenta às necessidades de produzir alimentos de maneira mais sustentável aprovou, no ano passado, variedades de soja, milho e algodão tolerantes a herbicidas com diferentes métodos de ação. Isso permitirá que as sementes desenvolvam todo seu potencial e que os produtores brasileiros tenham mais uma opção para a rotação de tecnologias no manejo de plantas daninhas. Sem essa ferramenta tecnológica, os agricultores ficariam reféns das limitações impostas pelas plantas invasoras. As tecnologias de resistência a insetos proporcionam benefícios semelhantes.

Na área da saúde, a revolução diz respeito aos métodos de combate a doenças que são endêmicas das regiões tropicais. Mais uma vez, mostrando-se parceira da sociedade, a CTNBio avaliou a biossegurança de duas vacinas recombinantes contra a Dengue em regime de urgência e deu parecer favorável a elas. Soma-se a estes esforços a aprovação do Aedes aegypti transgênico. O mosquito geneticamente modificado aprovado em 2014 tem se mostrado um aliado no combate ao inseto que, além de ser vetor da dengue, também está associado a casos de transmissão dos vírus Zika, Chikungunya e da febre amarela.

Nos últimos 10 anos, até o momento, o advento da nova CTNBio pela Lei 11.105 de 2005 – a Lei de Biossegurança – proporcionou a aprovação comercial de 82 Organismos Geneticamente Modificados (OGM): 52 eventos em plantas; 20 vacinas veterinárias; 7 microrganismos; 1 mosquito Aedes aegypti; e 2 vacinas para uso humano contra a Dengue. Essas liberações comerciais são a maior prova de que o Brasil lança mão da inovação para encontrar soluções para os desafios da contemporaneidade.

Entretanto, é necessário enfatizar que assuntos não relacionados com Ciência também se colocaram, como em anos anteriores, no caminho do desenvolvimento da biotecnologia em 2015. Manifestantes anti-ciência invadiram laboratórios e destruíram sete anos de pesquisas com plantas transgênicas de eucalipto e grupos anti-OGM chegaram a interromper reuniões da CTNBio, pondo abaixo portas com ações truculentas. Diversas inverdades foram publicadas na tentativa de colocar em dúvida a segurança e as contribuições que a transgenia vem dando para a sociedade. A ação desses grupos preocupa, pois, se sua ideologia for vitoriosa, tanto o progresso científico quanto o PIB brasileiros ficarão irreversivelmente prejudicados.

Hoje, a nossa Lei de Biossegurança é tida internacionalmente como um modelo de equilíbrio entre o rigor nas análises técnicas e a previsibilidade institucional necessária para haver o investimento. O reconhecimento global, o diálogo com a sociedade e a legitimidade dos critérios técnicos mostram que esses 10 anos são apenas o início de uma longa história de desenvolvimento e inovação no Brasil.

Barragens de alto risco ameaçam 540 mil pessoas (O Globo)

por Mariana Sanches

Barragem da Imerys na cidade de Barcarena, no Pará: vazamento de cerca de 450 mil metros cúbicos de rejeitos de caulim já aconteceu em 2007 – Arquivo/“O Liberal”

SÃO PAULO – A análise de documentos do Departamento Nacional de Produção Mineral (DNPM), órgão responsável pela fiscalização de barragens de mineração em todo o Brasil, revela que a tragédia que atingiu Mariana (MG) pode se repetir em pelo menos 16 outras barragens de quatro estados do país. O drama que matou 11 pessoas, desapareceu com outras 12 e atravessou Minas Gerais e Espírito Santo em direção ao mar ameaça mais meio milhão de pessoas. O Cadastro Nacional de Barragens de Mineração de abril de 2014 mostra que 16 reservatórios e uma cava de garimpo possuem categoria de risco alto — quando a estrutura não oferece condições ideais de segurança e pode colapsar — e alto dano potencial associado — quando pode afetar e matar populações, contaminar rios, destruir biomas e causar graves danos socioeconômicos.

De acordo com cálculos feitos pelo GLOBO, se essas barragens rompessem, os rejeitos potencialmente atingiriam 14 municípios, cuja população soma 540 mil habitantes. Incluindo-se na conta a cava de Serra Pelada, no Pará, são 780 mil pessoas em risco. As unidades possuem volume de 84 milhões de metros cúbicos para abrigar o material descartado no processo de mineração de ferro, estanho, manganês, caulim e ouro. O montante é 50% maior que a quantidade de lama que vazou da Samarco, que pertence à Vale e à australiana BHP.

Os rejeitos ameaçam três das maiores bacias hidrográficas brasileiras: a do Rio Paraguai, no coração do Pantanal sul-matogrossense; a do Rio Amazonas, que irriga a floresta amazônica; e a do Rio São Francisco, que banha o Nordeste.


A estimativa foi feita a partir da localização das barragens, dos cursos d’água e da localização da jusante — o sentido da vazão dos rios. Foram considerados municípios em risco imediato aqueles que estão a menos de 50 quilômetros das barragens e no caminho da correnteza de igarapés, riachos e rios que banham a área.

Apenas para comparação, a lama que saiu de Mariana já percorreu cerca de dez vezes a distância de 50 quilômetros usada na estimativa e partiu do reservatório a uma velocidade de cerca de 70 km/h. Repetidas as condições da barragem de Fundão, vilarejos desses municípios seriam afetados em menos de uma hora.

Os dados usados são do DNPM e do Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE). Nenhuma das empresas responsáveis pelas barragens de alto risco forneceu laudos técnicos sobre o que aconteceria com seus rejeitos se as estruturas colapsassem, o que permitiria traçar uma rota mais certeira do impacto nos municípios e até dos atingidos indiretamente, por falta d’água, por exemplo. Esses estudos compõem os Planos de Ações Emergenciais de Barragens de Mineração, que incluem também a lista de procedimentos para salvamento de pessoas e contenção de desastres em caso de emergência, cuja formulação é obrigatória por lei.

— Não há porque as empresas não tornarem esses documentos públicos, é uma informação importante para a população. O comportamento é estranho e preocupante. Sugere que o plano possa não existir ou que tenha sido feito de qualquer maneira — alertou o geólogo Álvaro dos Santos, do Instituto de Pesquisas Tecnológicas.

O plano de contingência da Samarco só foi apresentado mais de uma semana após o incidente e criticado pelo Ministério Público de Minas Gerais. O documento não previa alerta sonoro nem treinamento de pessoas que moravam na área de risco.

Entre as barragens listadas como potencialmente perigosas, há empresas reincidentes em acidentes. Uma delas, a Imerys Rio Capim Caulim S/A, é responsável pelo vazamento de cerca de 450 mil metros cúbicos de rejeitos de caulim — mistura de água e barro esbranquiçado — de uma das bacias, em 2007. Os rejeitos atingiram igarapés e rios do município de Barcarena (PA). Em 2014, o Ministério Público Federal investigou pelo menos outros dois vazamentos dos tanques da companhia. Agora, a empresa aparece como controladora de três barragens de classificação A: alto risco quanto à conservação e alto dano potencial. Ainda assim, sua produção não foi reduzida nem paralisada.

O Brasil está entre os dez maiores produtores mundiais de caulim, minério fundamental para a produção de papel. A Imerys afirmou, em nota, que não paralisou as atividades porque a lei não obriga, e negou que as estruturas estejam fora de controle. “Entre 2013 e 2015 foram investidos cerca de R$ 15 milhões na segurança de operações de barragem”, disse a nota, que ressaltou ainda que sistematicamente são tomadas “medidas como monitoramento do nível das bacias, acompanhamento do nível dos lençóis freáticos e estudos de estabilidade dos maciços das bacias”. A empresa reconheceu que “onde está a planta de beneficiamento da Imerys, existem pessoas” e disse ter plano de emergência voltada para elas, mas não apresentou documentos nem detalhes.

— É óbvio que as atividades deveriam ser suspensas nesses casos, mas a fiscalização não obriga. Aliás, não há nem prazo para que a empresa melhore suas estruturas, ela pode fazer quando quiser — diz a procuradora Zani Cajueiro, especialista no assunto.

Em Corumbá (MS), a Vale controla a Urucum Mineração, dona de dois reservatórios de classificação A, usados na extração de manganês. Esse tipo de atividade costuma produzir como rejeito quantidades de arsênio, substância altamente tóxica, de acordo com o Centro de Tecnologia Mineral (Cetem), do Ministério da Tecnologia. A Vale negou que o rejeito seja perigoso e disse que manteve as operações a despeito do resultado negativo das condições das estruturas. Afirmou ainda que inspeções feitas em 2015 reenquadraram as bacias para baixo e médio risco, mas não apresentou documentos que comprovem isso.

Já a Gerdau AçoMinas, controladora da Barragem Bocaina em Ouro Preto (MG), disse que, em análise do fim de 2014, o reservatório foi considerado de baixo risco e que está fora de operação. Apresentou um documento do DNPM que mostra a mudança de classificação para nível C. No entanto, a página não tem data.

Dona de bacias de água barrenta encravadas no meio da floresta amazônica, a Taboca Mineração é a empresa com maior número de barragens na lista: são dez, usadas para mineração de estanho. A empresa admitiu que, em caso de rompimento, a maior delas poderia provocar uma onda de cinco metros de rejeitos, que atingiria áreas indígenas. Afirmou que nas bacias há água e areia de granito. As estruturas não estão em operação e passam por recuperação ambiental. A Taboca afirmou que adota criteriosos padrões de segurança, “inclusive com mais rigor que o exigido pela legislação”.

Especialistas, no entanto, questionam as condições das barragens, mesmo daquelas que não estão em situação de alto risco. Em Mariana, a barragem rompida era considerada de baixo risco.

— Quem produz os laudos são as próprias empresas ou consultorias contratadas por elas. A raposa cuida do galinheiro — disse Francisco Fernandes, pesquisador do Cetem.

O DNPM não respondeu à reportagem.

Áreas de alto e muito alto risco (IPT)

Instituto de Pesquisas Tecnológicas assina contrato com Defesa Civil de SP para identificação de áreas de deslizamentos e inundações em 10 cidades

Um novo contrato assinado entre o Instituto de Pesquisas Tecnológicas (IPT) e a Coordenaria Estadual de Defesa Civil do Estado de São Paulo prevê o mapeamento das áreas de alto e muito alto risco a deslizamentos e inundações em 10 municípios. A relação contempla os municípios que apresentaram incidência e recorrência de eventos de ordem meteorológica, hidrológica e geológica, de acordo com dados estatísticos registrados no Sistema Integrado de Defesa Civil (SIDEC) e que ainda não possuem instrumentos de identificação de risco abrangidos no Plano Preventivo de Defesa Civil do estado.

O projeto de três meses será realizado pela Seção de Investigações, Riscos e Desastres Naturais do IPT por meio de visitas técnicas aos municípios e posterior organização das informações em mapas, imagens e documentação fotográfica em um Sistema de Informações Geográficas (SIG), a fim de subsidiar o gerenciamento das áreas e estabelecer parâmetros técnicos e sociais.

Os graus de risco considerados seguem o método desenvolvido em 2007 pelo Ministério das Cidades e IPT, o qual estabelece quatro condições potenciais de risco – “é importante ressaltar que o projeto tratará dos setores classificados como de risco alto (R3) e muito alto (R4) das 10 cidades”, afirma Marcelo Fischer Gramani, coordenador do projeto e pesquisador da Seção.

As cidades incluídas no projeto estão localizadas nas Regiões Administrativas de Presidente Prudente (Adamantina, Caiabu, Inúbia Paulista e Presidente Prudente), de Campinas (Caconde e Divinolândia), de Itapeva (Paranapanema e Tejupá), de Marília (Tupã) e de Barretos (Olímpia). Estes municípios foram indicados como prioritários por não terem informações atualizadas sobre riscos de deslizamento e/ou inundações.

As principais atividades desenvolvidas pelo IPT incluem a pesquisa bibliográfica dos levantamentos de áreas de riscos existentes, a consulta às equipes das Coordenadorias Municipais de Defesa Civil sobre o número de atendimentos efetuados nos locais que serão avaliados, a realização de vistorias de campo para levantamento de indicadores de risco e tipologias dos processos, e a elaboração de documentação fotográfica.

Os dados coletados serão analisados para fundamentar o relatório técnico, que irá conter informações como descrição da área avaliada, delimitação dos setores de risco identificados em imagem de sensores remotos, quantidade de imóveis em risco, quantidade de pessoas em risco, tipologia do processo (deslizamento, inundação, solapamento de margem) e sugestões de intervenções para minimizar ou eliminar os riscos identificados.


‘Não podemos brincar de Deus com as alterações no genoma humano’, alerta ONU (ONU)

Publicado em Atualizado em 07/10/2015

A modificação do código genético permite tratar doenças como o câncer, mas pode gerar mudanças hereditárias. UNESCO pede uma regulamentação clara sobre os procedimentos científicos e informação à população.

Foto: Flickr/ ynse

“Terapia genética poderia ser o divisor de águas na história da medicina e a alteração no genoma é sem dúvida um dos maiores empreendimentos da ciência em nome da humanidade”, afirmou a Organização das Nações Unidas para a Educação, a Ciência e a Cultura (UNESCO) sobre um relatório publicado pelo Comitê Internacional de Bioética (IBC) nesta segunda-feira (5).

O IBC acrescentou, no entanto, que intervenções no genoma humano deveriam ser autorizadas somente em casos preventivos, diagnósticos ou terapêuticos que não gerem alterações para os descendentes. O relatório destaca também a importância da regulamentação e informação clara aos consumidores.

O documento ressaltou os avanços na possibilidade de testes genéticos em casos de doenças hereditárias, por meio da terapia genética, o uso de células tronco embrionárias na pesquisa médica e uso de clones e alterações genéticas para fins medicinais. São citadas também novas técnicas que podem inserir, tirar e corrigir o DNA, podendo tratar ou curar o câncer e outras doenças. Porém, estas mesmas técnicas também possibilitam mudanças no DNA, como determinar a cor dos olhos de um bebê, por exemplo.

“O grande medo é que podemos estar tentando “brincar de Deus” com consequências imprevisíveis” e no final precipitando a nossa própria destruição”, alertou o antigo secretário-geral da ONU, Kofi Annan em 2004, quando perguntado qual seria a linha ética que determinaria o limite das alterações no genoma humano. Para responder a essa questão, os Estados-membros da UNESCO adotaram em 2005 a Declaração Universal sobre Bioética e Direitos Humanos que lida com os dilemas éticos levantados pelas rápidas mudanças na medicina, na ciência e tecnologia.

A região mexicana que acredita ser protegida por ETs (BBC)

15 abril 2015

BBC Mundo

Muitos moradores de Tampico e Ciudad Madero acreditam que a costa em frente à praia Miramar é o melhor local para se avistar ETs

Sentado num sofá de uma cafeteria simples de Ciudad Madero, um homem me convida a meditar para ver óvnis.

A televisão exibe Bob Marley cantando I Shot the Sheriff e, atrás do balcão, uma mulher prepara um frappuccino.

A cidade fica no violento Estado de Tamaulipas, nordeste do México, e muitos acreditam que os extraterrestres passaram décadas a protegendo de furacões.

Isto porque, quando os furacões que ocorrem na região avançam com força até a costa, onde fica a cidade, eles parariam de forma abrupta e misteriosa, mudando de direção, de acordo com os habitantes mais crentes.

Moradores dizem que já viram os alienígenas, outros afirmam que há uma base submarina a cerca de 40 quilômetros da costa e que já viram suas naves, esferas, triângulos e luzes.


Aliens são um assunto falado abertamente nesta região do México

E todos conversam abertamente sobre o assunto.

O engenheiro civil Fernando Alonso Gallardo, 68 anos, aposentado da petroleira estatal Pemex e empresário, tem o rosto queimado pelo sol da praia local, Miramar, uma faixa de areia de dez quilômetros.

Pelas janelas do restaurante de Gallardo, o El Mexicano, que fica na praia, entra uma brisa do Golfo do México.

Gallardo conta sua história à BBC Mundo, o serviço em espanhol da BBC. A dele, como a de muitos em Ciudad Madero, envolve avistamentos de objetos voadores não identificados.

BBC Mundo

Furacões em 1933 e 1955 destruíram o restaurante da família de Alonso

Em 1933, quando os furacões ainda não tinham nome, um da categoria 5 chegou a Tampico, onde Gallardo nasceu, perto de Ciudad Madero. O furacão destruiu o restaurante de seu pai, mas a família construiu outro.

Em 1955 o furacão Hilda, que inundou três quartos da cidade e deixou 20 mil desabrigados, voltou a atingir a região.

“Acho que nesta época não havia extraterrestres, se houvesse, não teria tantos desastres”, diz Gallardo.

Furacões também ocorreram em 1947, 1951 e 1966. Mas, logo, as tempestades pararam de atingir a região.

Investigadores acreditam que o verdadeiro motivo do desvio dos furacões é a presença de correntes de água fria na área. Mas, nas vizinhas Tampico e Ciudad Madero, ninguém ignora a crença de que algo sobrenatural defenderia a região.


Entre o século 19 e os anos 1970, quando as pessoas viam objetos luminosos no céu, diziam que eram bruxas.

Em 1967, foi construído um monumento à Virgem de Carmen – padroeira do mar e dos marinheiros – no local por onde passam pescadores quando deixam o rio Pánuco, que divide os Estados de Tamaulipas e Veracruz.

Muitos viam aí a explicação para o desaparecimento de furacões.

Até hoje, é uma tradição que marinheiros façam o sinal da cruz diante da estátua e capitães buzinem suas embarcações, disse Marco Flores, que desde 1995 é cronista oficial do governo da cidade de Tampico.

A teoria marciana chegou pouco depois.

BBC Mundo

Muitos acreditam que são os ETs que protegem a região de furacões

Segundo Flores, ela foi trazida por um homem da Cidade do México que chegou a Tampico por volta dos anos 1970 a trabalho, e garantiu que mais do que proteger a cidade, os extraterrestres que haviam entrado em contato com ele guardavam suas bases submarinas.

Alonso Gallardo concorda. “Não é um esforço para proteger a cidade, é um esforço para proteger a cidade onde eles vivem, porque eles encontraram uma maneira de estar lá”.

Gallardo diz ter visto seu primeiro óvni em 1983: um disco de 60 metros de diâmetro com luzes amareladas. Isso ocorreu no final do calçadão que serve para separar a água verde do Golfo do México da água escura do rio Pánuco.

Ali, dizem os que acreditam, é o melhor lugar para se ver os objetos.

‘Falta de inteligência’

O ponto de encontro dos “crentes” era um café no Walmart, mas a mulher que os atendia não parecia confortável com o tópico da conversa. Assim, os membros da Associação de Investigação Científica Óvni de Tampico se mudaram para o restaurante Bambino de Ciudad Madero.

Ali, cada um espera para narrar suas experiências.

BBC Mundo

José Luis Cárdenas tira fotos do céu, nas quais aparecem luzes estranhas

Na cabeceira da mesa, Eduardo Ortiz Anguiano, 83 anos, fala sobre seu livro publicado no ano passado, De Ovnis, fantasmas e outros eventos extraordinários.

Durante três anos, ele coletou mais de 100 depoimentos e se convenceu: “Duvidar da existência de óvnis é não ter inteligência”.

E muitos concordam. Eva Martínez diz que a presença de extraterrestres lhe dá paz.

José Luis Cárdenas tem várias fotografias nas quais se vê luzes com formas estranhas – luzes que não estão no céu no momento da foto mas que aparecem no visor da câmera, segundo ele.

“Se os seres que nos visitam não nos machucam, então estão nos protegendo, estão fazendo algo por nós. E é assim que temos que ver as coisas”, disse.

A última vez que um furacão que dirigia-se para a área de Tampico se desviou foi em 2013.

Naquele ano, autoridades locais colocaram o busto de um marciano na praia de Miramar (que foi roubado logo depois) e declararam que na última terça-feira de outubro seria celebrado o Dia do Marciano.

“A explicação que não podemos dar cientificamente damos de maneira mágica. As pessoas desta região têm um pensamento mágico”, diz Flores, o cronista de Tampico.

‘Deus gosta de Tampico’

No sofá da cafeteria de Ciudad Madero, Juan Carlos Ramón López Díaz, presidente da associação de pesquisadores de óvnis, pede para que eu feche os olhos e mantenha a mente tranquila.

Ele me convida a ver um objeto luminoso no qual posso entrar, se eu quiser.

Atrás do balcão, ligam o liquidificador. Abro os olhos. Apesar da ajuda de López Díaz, não vi nada.

Sabesp inicia obras às pressas sem avaliar risco (OESP)

Fabio Leite – O Estado de S. Paulo

15 Março 2015 | 02h 01

Companhia de Saneamento Básico do Estado de São Paulo desengavetou planos sem ter tempo de estudar impacto ambiental

SÃO PAULO – A busca por novos mananciais para suprir a escassez hídrica a curto prazo e tentar evitar o rodízio oficial de água na Grande São Paulo levou a Companhia de Saneamento Básico do Estado de São Paulo (Sabesp) a tirar do papel uma série de projetos engavetados há anos e a executá-los a toque de caixa sem Estudo de Impacto Ambiental (EIA), aprovação em comitês ou decreto de estado de emergência.

Até o momento, são seis obras (uma já concluída) que envolvem transposições entre rios e reservatórios com o objetivo de aumentar a oferta de água para conseguir abastecer 20 milhões de pessoas durante o período seco (que vai de abril a setembro) sem decretar racionamento generalizado. A principal delas é a interligação do Sistema Rio Grande com o Alto Tietê, o segundo manancial mais crítico (21% da capacidade), melhor só que o Cantareira.

Segundo a Sabesp, já foi iniciada a construção de 11 quilômetros de adutora e uma estação de bombeamento para levar até 4 mil litros por segundo da Billings, no ABC, para a Represa Taiaçupeba, em Suzano. A conclusão está prevista para julho. Técnicos do governo Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) afirmam, contudo, que uma obra desse porte precisaria de EIA, aprovação no Comitê da Bacia do Alto Tietê, além da outorga do Departamento de Águas e Energia Elétrica de São Paulo (DAEE).

A principal das obras é a interligação do Sistema Rio Grande com o Alto Tietê, o segundo manancial mais crítico (21% da capacidade), melhor só que o Cantareira.

A principal das obras é a interligação do Sistema Rio Grande com o Alto Tietê, o segundo manancial mais crítico (21% da capacidade), melhor só que o Cantareira.

Com a provável reversão das águas do poluído corpo central da Billings para o Braço Rio Grande, já manifestada pela Sabesp, seria preciso ainda aprovação prévia do Conselho Estadual do Meio Ambiente (Consema) e de outorga da Agência Nacional de Energia Elétrica (Aneel), já que a represa também fornece água para geração de energia na Usina Henry Borden, em Cubatão. Todo esse trâmite teve de ser seguido para a execução da ligação Billings-Guarapiranga, pelo Braço Taquacetuba, na crise de 2000.

“Ou o governo decreta estado de emergência para tocar as chamadas obras emergenciais sem licitação e estudo de impacto ambiental, com perda de capacidade de concorrência e de participação social, ou então licita e produz os relatórios necessários. Do jeito que está, há uma incoerência brutal”, afirmou o engenheiro Darcy Brega Filho, especialista em gestão de sustentabilidade e ex-funcionário da Sabesp.

Mar. No pacote de obras emergenciais estão a interligação de dois rios de vertente marítima (que deságuam no mar), Itatinga e Capivari, para rios que são afluentes das Represas Jundiaí (Alto Tietê) e Guarapiranga. As duas intervenções recém-anunciadas pela Sabesp já constavam do Plano Diretor de Águas e Abastecimento (PDAA) de 2004 e ficaram engavetadas. Cada uma deve aumentar a vazão dos sistemas em 1 mil litros por segundo e também precisariam de aprovação do Comitê da Bacia da Baixada Santista.

“Sem dúvida, é preciso de obras emergenciais para trazer água para a região metropolitana, mas isso não anula uma avaliação mais acurada desse conjunto de transposições para calcular a eficiência desses projetos e seus efeitos indiretos”, afirmou o especialista em recursos hídricos José Galizia Tundisi, presidente do Instituto Internacional de Ecologia e vice-presidente do Instituto Acqua.

Um exemplo citado por funcionários do governo sobre a falta de avaliação dos projetos é a construção de 9 quilômetros de adutora para levar 1 mil litros por segundo do Rio Guaió para a Represa Taiaçupeba. As obras começaram em fevereiro e devem ser concluídas em maio, segundo a Sabesp. Técnicos da área afirmam que durante o período de estiagem a vazão média desse rio é de apenas 300 litros por segundo, ou seja, 70% menor do que a pretendida.

Vamos defender a água (Conta d’Água)

24 fev 2015

Você vem tomando banho de gato para economizar água? Não descarrega a privada se ela estiver apenas com xixi? Usa a água da lavadora de roupas para limpar o quintal? Sua casa está cheia de caixas d’água e baldes para armazenar chuva?

Oi! Estamos falando com você porque estamos na mesma situação.

O governador Geraldo Alckmin e a Sabesp — que vivem no reino da fantasia — dizem que não há racionamento, que não há falta de água na cidade.

Mas –na vida real– ou falta água todo dia, ou falta durante muitos dias seguidos, como já vem acontecendo na zona leste da capital.

Agora, o governador e a Sabesp dizem que os mananciais estão se recuperando com as chuvas de verão.

Eles querem nos tranquilizar porque têm medo do povo na rua.

A verdade é que os reservatórios de água, as represas e os rios que abastecem a região metropolitana de São Paulo estão nos níveis mais baixos da história.

As chuvas que têm desabado sobre a cidade são como uns caraminguás entrando numa conta que já está estourada no cheque especial. Sim, porque explorar o volume morto do sistema Cantareira (como ainda está acontecendo) é como entrar no cheque especial: fácil entrar, difícil sair.

Quando começar a estiagem, a partir de abril, aí é que a coisa vai ficar feia:

Seca climática sem reserva de água é o mesmo que aumento de doenças, fechamento de fábricas, comércio e escolas, desemprego.

Em uma palavra: sofrimento.

O pior de tudo é que enquanto nós fazemos uma economia danada e enfrentamos a interrupção no fornecimento de água, a Sabesp premiou 500 empresas privilegiadas com o direito de receber todo santo dia milhões de litros de água potável — e elas pagam uma tarifa camarada, bem mais baixa do que a dos cidadãos comuns.

É justo isso?

A reponsabilidade por tanto desmando é do governo do Estado, que não fez os investimentos necessários para reduzir os vazamentos nos canos de água da rede de abastecimento; que privatizou parte da Sabesp e distribuiu gordas fatias dos lucros para acionistas na bolsa de valores de Nova York; que preferiu culpar São Pedro a tomar providências; que presenteia com agrados os amigos da empresa.

E eles ainda querem aumentar a tarifa da água em abril!

Porque não queremos mais ser enganados; porque a população exige a elaboração de um plano de emergência para lidar com a seca; porque não queremos pagar nem um centavo a mais pela água que a Sabesp não entrega, porque não aceitamos privilégios no acesso à água, vamos fazer um grande ato público nesta quinta-feira (26 de fevereiro).

A iniciativa, do Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (MTST), já conseguiu a adesão de vários movimentos sociais e de ambientalistas. A concentração será às 17h no Largo da Batata, em Pinheiros. De lá sairemos em passeata para o Palácio dos Bandeirantes, mansão onde vive o governador Geraldo Alckmin.

Vamos dizer bem alto para ele que não aceitamos pagar o pato pela crise que não criamos;

Que exigimos água boa, limpa e cristalina para todos (e não só para os mais ricos e privilegiados);

Chega de irresponsabilidade com a vida da população!

Sabesp admite que rodízio pode contaminar água (Estadão)

Pedro Venceslau e Fabio Leite – O Estado de S. Paulo

26 Fevereiro 2015 | 03h 00

Diretor disse em CPI que problema não colocaria usuário em risco; empresa também afirmou que pressão está fora da norma

SÃO PAULO – O risco de contaminação da água admitido nesta quarta-feira, 25, pelo diretor metropolitano da Companhia de Saneamento Básico do Estado de São Paulo (Sabesp), Paulo Massato, em caso de rodízio oficial já é realidade em algumas regiões altas da Grande São Paulo. São locais onde a rede fica despressurizada após o fechamento manual dos registros na rua, conforme um alto dirigente da empresa admitiu ao Estado no início do mês.

“Se implementado o rodízio, a rede fica despressurizada, principalmente em regiões de topografia acidentada, nos pontos em que a tubulação está em declive. Se o lençol freático está contaminado, isso aumenta o risco de contaminação (da água na rede)”, afirmou Massato, nesta quarta, durante sessão da CPI da Sabesp na Câmara Municipal.

O resultado desse contágio, segundo ele, não colocaria a vida dos consumidores em risco, mas poderia causar disenteria, por exemplo. “Nós temos hoje medicina suficiente para minimizar risco de vida para a população. Uma disenteria pode ser mais grave ou menos grave, mas é um risco (implementar o rodízio) que nós queremos evitar ”, completou. Apesar do alerta, ele disse que a estatal poderia “descontaminar” rapidamente a água afetada.

Hélvio Romero/Estadão

‘Estamos em uma situação de anormalidade. Nós não conseguiríamos abastecer 6 milhões de habitantes se mantivéssemos a normalidade’, disse Massato

No início do mês, um dirigente da Sabesp admitiu ao Estado que em 40% da rede onde não há válvulas redutoras de pressão (VRPs) instaladas, o racionamento de água é feito por meio do fechamento manual, flagrado pela reportagem na Vila Brasilândia, zona norte da capital. Segundo ele, a manobra “não esvazia totalmente” a rede, mas “despressuriza pontos mais altos”.

“A zona baixa fica com água. Se não houver consumo excessivo, a maior parte da rede fica com água. Acaba despressurizando zonas altas, isso acontece mesmo. Tanto é que quando abre (o registro) para encher de novo, as zonas mais altas e distantes acabam sofrendo mais, ficando mais tempo sem água”, afirmou.

Para o engenheiro Antonio Giansante, professor de Engenharia Hídrica do Mackenzie, é grande o risco de contaminação em caso de fechamento da rede. “Em uma eventualidade de o tubo estar seco, pode ser que entre água de qualidade não controlada, em geral, contaminada por causa das redes coletoras de esgoto, para dentro da rede da Sabesp.”

Segundo interlocutores do governador Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB), a declaração desagradou o tucano, uma vez que o rodízio não está descartado. Massato já havia causado constrangimento ao governo ao dizer, em 27 de janeiro, que São Paulo poderia ficar até cinco dias sem água por semana em caso de racionamento.

Fora da norma. Massato e o presidente da Sabesp, Jerson Kelman, que também prestou depoimento à CPI, admitiram aos vereadores que a empresa mantém a pressão da água na rede abaixo do recomendado pela Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas (ABNT), conforme o Estado revelou no início do mês. Segundo o órgão, são necessários ao menos 10 metros de coluna de água para encher todas as caixas.

“Nós estamos garantindo 1 metro da coluna de água, preservando a rede de distribuição. Mas não tem pressão suficiente para chegar na caixa d’água”, admitiu Massato. “Estamos abaixo dos 10 metros de coluna de água, principalmente nas zonas mais altas e mais distantes dos reservatórios.”

“Essa é uma medida mitigadora para evitar algo muito pior para a população, que é o rodízio”, afirmou Kelman. “São poucos pontos na rede em que não se tem a pressão exigida pela ABNT para condições normais. Isso não é uma opção da Sabesp. Não estamos em condições normais”, completou.

Em dezembro, Alckmin disse que a Sabesp cumpria “rigorosamente” a norma técnica. A Sabesp foi notificada pela Agência Reguladora de Saneamento e Energia do Estado de São Paulo (Arsesp) e respondeu na terça-feira aos questionamentos feitos sobre as manobras na rede. O órgão fiscalizador, contudo, ainda não se pronunciou.

Ar encanado. Questionados sobre a investigação do Ministério Público Estadual que apura suposta cobrança por “ar encanado” pela Sabesp, revelada pelo Estado, os dirigentes da empresa disseram que a prática atingiu apenas 2% dos clientes. Das 22 mil reclamações registradas em fevereiro sobre aumento indevido da conta, 500 culpavam o ar encanado. O problema ocorre quando a água retorna na rede e empurra o ar de volta para as ligações das casas, podendo adulterar a medição do hidrômetro. / COLABOROU RICARDO CHAPOLA

Panel Urges Research on Geoengineering as a Tool Against Climate Change (New York Times)

Piles at a CCI Energy Solutions coal handling plant in Shelbiana, Ky. Geoengineering proposals might counteract the effects of climate change that are the result of burning fossils fuels, such as coal. Credit: Luke Sharrett/Getty Images 

With the planet facing potentially severe impacts from global warming in coming decades, a government-sponsored scientific panel on Tuesday called for more research on geoengineering — technologies to deliberately intervene in nature to counter climate change.

The panel said the research could include small-scale outdoor experiments, which many scientists say are necessary to better understand whether and how geoengineering would work.

Some environmental groups and others say that such projects could have unintended damaging effects, and could set society on an unstoppable path to full-scale deployment of the technologies.

But the National Academy of Sciences panel said that with proper governance, which it said needed to be developed, and other safeguards, such experiments should pose no significant risk.

In two widely anticipated reports, the panel — which was supported by NASA and other federal agencies, including what the reports described as the “U.S. intelligence community” — noted that drastically reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases was by far the best way to mitigate the effects of a warming planet.

A device being developed by a company called Global Thermostat, is made to capture carbon dioxide from the air. This may be one solution to counteract climate change.CreditHenry Fountain/The New York Times 

But the panel, in making the case for more research into geoengineering, said, “It may be prudent to examine additional options for limiting the risks from climate change.”

“The committee felt that the need for information at this point outweighs the need for shoving this topic under the rug,” Marcia K. McNutt, chairwoman of the panel and the editor in chief of the journal Science, said at a news conference in Washington.

Geoengineering options generally fall into two categories: capturing and storing some of the carbon dioxide that has already been emitted so that the atmosphere traps less heat, or reflecting more sunlight away from the earth so there is less heat to start with. The panel issued separate reports on each.

The panel said that while the first option, called carbon dioxide removal, was relatively low risk, it was expensive, and that even if it was pursued on a planetwide scale, it would take many decades to have a significant impact on the climate. But the group said research was needed to develop efficient and effective methods to both remove the gas and store it so it remains out of the atmosphere indefinitely.

The second option, called solar radiation management, is far more controversial. Most discussions of the concept focus on the idea of dispersing sulfates or other chemicals high in the atmosphere, where they would reflect sunlight, in some ways mimicking the effect of a large volcanic eruption.

The process would be relatively inexpensive and should quickly lower temperatures, but it would have to be repeated indefinitely and would do nothing about another carbon dioxide-related problem: the acidification of oceans.

This approach might also have unintended effects on weather patterns around the world — bringing drought to once-fertile regions, for example. Or it might be used unilaterally as a weapon by governments or even extremely wealthy individuals.

Opponents of geoengineering have long argued that even conducting research on the subject presents a moral hazard that could distract society from the necessary task of reducing the emissions that are causing warming in the first place.

“A geoengineering ‘technofix’ would take us in the wrong direction,” Lisa Archer, food and technology program director of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. “Real climate justice requires dealing with root causes of climate change, not launching risky, unproven and unjust schemes.”

But the panel said that society had “reached a point where the severity of the potential risks from climate change appears to outweigh the potential risks from the moral hazard” of conducting research.

Ken Caldeira, a geoengineering researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science and a member of the committee, said that while the panel felt that it was premature to deploy any sunlight-reflecting technologies today, “it’s worth knowing more about them,” including any problems that might make them unworkable.

“If there’s a real showstopper, we should know about it now,” Dr. Caldeira said, rather than discovering it later when society might be facing a climate emergency and desperate for a solution.

Dr. Caldeira is part of a small community of scientists who have researched solar radiation management concepts. Almost all of the research has been done on computers, simulating the effects of the technique on the climate. One attempt in Britain in 2011 to conduct an outdoor test of some of the engineering concepts provoked a public outcry. The experiment was eventually canceled.

David Keith, a researcher at Harvard University who reviewed the reports before they were released, said in an interview, “I think it’s terrific that they made a stronger call than I expected for research, including field research.” Along with other researchers, Dr. Keith has proposed a field experiment to test the effect of sulfate chemicals on atmospheric ozone.

Unlike some European countries, the United States has never had a separate geoengineering research program. Dr. Caldeira said establishing a separate program was unlikely, especially given the dysfunction in Congress. But he said that because many geoengineering research proposals might also help in general understanding of the climate, agencies that fund climate research might start to look favorably upon them.

Dr. Keith agreed, adding that he hoped the new reports would “break the logjam” and “give program managers the confidence they need to begin funding.”

At the news conference, Waleed Abdalati, a member of the panel and a professor at the University of Colorado, said that geoengineering research would have to be subject to governance that took into account not just the science, “but the human ramifications, as well.”

Dr. Abdalati said that, in general, the governance needed to precede the research. “A framework that addresses what kinds of activities would require governance is a necessary first step,” he said.

Raymond Pierrehumbert, a geophysicist at the University of Chicago and a member of the panel, said in an interview that while he thought that a research program that allowed outdoor experiments was potentially dangerous, “the report allows for enough flexibility in the process to follow that it could be decided that we shouldn’t have a program that goes beyond modeling.”

Above all, he said, “it’s really necessary to have some kind of discussion among broader stakeholders, including the public, to set guidelines for an allowable zone for experimentation.”

The Risks of Climate Engineering (New York Times)

Credit: Sarah Jacoby 

THE Republican Party has long resisted action on climate change, but now that much of the electorate wants something done, it needs to find a way out of the hole it has dug for itself. A committee appointed by the National Research Council may just have handed the party a ladder.

In a two-volume report, the council is recommending that the federal government fund a research program into geoengineering as a response to a warming globe. The study could be a watershed moment because reports from the council, an arm of the National Academies that provides advice on science and technology, are often an impetus for new scientific research programs.

Sometimes known as “Plan B,” geoengineering covers a variety of technologies aimed at deliberate, large-scale intervention in the climate system to counter global warming.

Despairing at global foot-dragging, some climate scientists now believe that a turn to Plan B is inevitable. They see it as inscribed in the logic of the situation. The council’s study begins with the assertion that the “likelihood of eventually considering last-ditch efforts” to address climate destabilization grows every year.

The report is balanced in its assessment of the science. Yet by bringing geoengineering from the fringes of the climate debate into the mainstream, it legitimizes a dangerous approach.

Beneath the identifiable risks is not only a gut reaction to the hubris of it all — the idea that humans could set out to regulate the Earth system, perhaps in perpetuity — but also to what it says about where we are today. As the committee’s chairwoman, Marcia McNutt, told The Associated Press: The public should read this report “and say, ‘This is downright scary.’ And they should say, ‘If this is our Hail Mary, what a scary, scary place we are in.’ ”

Even scarier is the fact that, while most geoengineering boosters see these technologies as a means of buying time for the world to get its act together, others promote them as a substitute for cutting emissions. In 2008, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, later Republican presidential candidate and an early backer of geoengineering, said: “Instead of penalizing ordinary Americans, we would have an option to address global warming by rewarding scientific invention,” adding: “Bring on the American ingenuity.”

The report, considerably more cautious, describes geoengineering as one element of a “portfolio of responses” to climate change and examines the prospects of two approaches — removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and enveloping the planet in a layer of sulfate particles to reduce the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface.

At the same time, the council makes clear that there is “no substitute for dramatic reductions in the emissions” of greenhouse gases to slow global warming and acidifying oceans.

The lowest-risk strategies for removing carbon dioxide are “currently limited by cost and at present cannot achieve the desired result of removing climatically important amounts,” the report said. On the second approach, the council said that at present it was “opposed to climate-altering deployment” of technologies to reflect radiation back into space.

Still, the council called for research programs to fill the gaps in our knowledge on both approaches, evoking a belief that we can understand enough about how the Earth system operates in order to take control of it.

Expressing interest in geoengineering has been taboo for politicians worried about climate change for fear they would be accused of shirking their responsibility to cut carbon emissions. Yet in some congressional offices, interest in geoengineering is strong. And Congress isn’t the only place where there is interest. Russia in 2013 unsuccessfully sought to insert a pro-geoengineering statement into the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Early work on geoengineering has given rise to one of the strangest paradoxes in American politics: enthusiasm for geoengineering from some who have attacked the idea of human-caused global warming. The Heartland Institute, infamous for its billboard comparing those who support climate science to the Unabomber, Theodore J. Kaczynski, featured an article in one of its newsletters from 2007 describing geoengineering as a “practical, cost-effective global warming strategy.”

Some scholars associated with conservative think tanks like the Hoover Institution and the Hudson Institute have written optimistically about geoengineering.

Oil companies, too, have dipped their toes into the geoengineering waters with Shell, for instance, having funded research into a scheme to put lime into seawater so it absorbs more carbon dioxide.

With half of Republican voters favoring government action to tackle global warming, any Republican administration would be tempted by the technofix to beat all technofixes.

For some, instead of global warming’s being proof of human failure, engineering the climate would represent the triumph of human ingenuity. While climate change threatens to destabilize the system, geoengineering promises to protect it. If there is such a thing as a right-wing technology, geoengineering is it.

President Obama has been working assiduously to persuade the world that the United States is at last serious about Plan A — winding back its greenhouse gas emissions. The suspicions of much of the world would be reignited if the United States were the first major power to invest heavily in Plan B.

Is a climate disaster inevitable? (Book Forum)

From De Ethica, Michel Bourban (Lausanne): Climate Change, Human Rights and the Problem of Motivation; Robert Heeger (Utrecht): Climate Change and Responsibility to Future Generations: Reflections on the Normative Questions; Casey Rentmeester (Finlandia): Do No Harm: A Cross-Disciplinary, Cross-Cultural Climate Ethics; and Norbert Campagna (Luxembourg): Climate Migration and the State’s Duty to Protect. Harvard’s David Keith knows how to dial down the Earth’s thermostat — is it time to try? Renzo Taddei (UNIFESP): Alter Geoengineering. Tobias Boes and Kate Marshall on writing the Anthropocene. People don’t work as hard on hot days — or on a warming planet. James West on 2014 was the year we finally started to do something about climate change. How much is climate change going to cost us? David Roberts investigates. Is a climate disaster inevitable? Adam Frank on what astrobiology can tell us about the fate of the planet. If we’re all headed for extinction anyway—AND WE ARE—won’t it be a lot more enjoyable to run out the clock with everyone looking a little more pleasant? Welcome to the latest exciting opportunity in the sights of investors: the collapse of planet Earth. You can download Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence by Christian Parenti (2011). You can download Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene by Joanna Zylinska (2014).

[Emphasis added]

R.I.P. Ulrich Beck (PopAnth)

Sociology loses one of its most important voices

by John McCreery on January 16, 2015

Ulrich Beck. Photo by International Students’ Committee via Wikimedia Commons.
Ulrich Beck. Photo by International Students’ Committee via Wikimedia Commons.

The death of Ulrich Beck on January 1, 2015 stilled one of sociology’s most important voices.

Beck has long been one of my favourite sociologists. That is because the world he describes in his book Risk Society reminds me very much of the world of Chinese popular religion that I studied in Taiwan.

There are two basic similarities. First, in the risk society as Beck describes it, public pomp and ceremony and ostentatious displays of wealth recede. Wealth is increasingly privatized, concealed in gated communities, its excesses hidden from public view. Second, social inequality not only increases but increasingly takes the form of differential exposure to many forms of invisible risks.

In the world that Beck describes, signs of wealth continue to exist. Coronations and royal births, celebrity weddings, CEO yachts, the massive homes of the rich and famous and their McMansion imitators are all visible evidence that wealth still counts.

But, says Beck, inequality’s deeper manifestations are now in differences in institutions that shelter the rich and expose the poor to risks that include not only economic fluctuations but also extreme weather and climate change, chemical and biological pollution, mutating and drug-resistant diseases. The hidden plots of terrorists and of those who combat them might also be added to this list.

 People with problems attribute them to invisible causes. They turn for help to those who claim special powers to diagnose and prescribe. 

When I visualize what Beck is talking about when he says that wealth is becoming invisible, I imagine an airport. In the main concourse there is little visible difference between those checking in at the First or Business Class counters and those checking in for the cattle car seats in Economy. All will pass the same array of Duty Free shops on their way to their planes.

But while the masses wait at the gates, the elite relax in comfortable, concealed spaces, plied with food, drink and WiFi, in lounges whose entrances are deliberately understated. This is not, however, the height of luxury.

Keiko Yamaki, a former airline stewardess turned applied anthropologist, observes in her study of airline service culture that the real elite, the super rich, no longer fly with commercial airlines. They prefer their private jets. Even those in First Class are more likely to be from the merely 1% instead of the 0.01%, who are now never seen checking in or boarding with the rest of us.

What, then, of invisible risks? The transactions that dominate the global economy are rarely, if ever, to be seen, negotiated in private and executed via encrypted digital networks. Financial institutions and the 1% who own them are protected from economic risk. The 99%, and especially those who live in the world’s poorest nations and slums are not.

The invisible threats of nuclear, chemical and biological waste are concentrated where the poor live. Drug-resistant diseases spread like wildfire through modern transportation systems, but the wealthy are protected by advanced technology and excellent health care. The poor are not.

At the end of the day, however, all must face misfortune and death, and here is where the similarity to Chinese popular religion comes in.

My business is failing. My daughter is acting crazy. My son was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident. He’s been married for three years and his wife still hasn’t had a baby. I feel sick all the time. I sometimes feel faint or pass out.

Why? The world of Chinese popular religion has answers. Impersonal factors, the alignment of your birth date with the current configuration of the stars, Yin and Yang and the Five Elements, may mean that this is a bad time for you.

Worse still, you may have offended one of the gods, ghosts or ancestors who inhabit the invisible Yin world that exists alongside the Yang world in which we live. The possibilities are endless. You need to find experts, mediums, magicians or priests, who can identify the source of your problem and prescribe remedies for it. You know that most who claim to be experts are charlatans but hope nonetheless to find the real thing.

Note how similar this is to the world that Beck describes, where the things that we fear most are said to be caused by invisible powers, the market, the virus, pollution or climate change, for example. Most of us don’t understand these things. We turn to experts for advice; but so many claim to be experts and say so many different things.

How do we find those who “really know”? The rich may have access to experts with with bigger reputations in finance, law, medicine, science or personal protection. But what does this really mean?

As I see it, all forms of consulting are magic. People with problems attribute them to invisible causes. They turn for help to those who claim special powers to diagnose and prescribe, and random chance alone will lead to identification of some who claim such powers as having “It,” that special something that produces desired results. Negative evidence will disappear in a context where most who claim special powers are known to be frauds.

The primary question for those looking for “It” is how to find the golden needle in a huge and constantly growing haystack. People turn to to their social networks for recommendations by trusted others, whose trust may, however, be grounded in nothing more than having found someone whose recommendations are, by sheer random chance, located in the tail of the normal curve where “success” is concentrated.

I read Beck’s Risk Society long before I read Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomnessand The Black Swan. Taleb’s accounts of how traders who place lucky bets in the bond market are seen as geniuses with mystical insights into market mechanisms — at least until their funds collapse — seem to me to strongly support my theory of how all consulting works.

I read the words of “experts” who clamour for my attention and think of Taleb’s parable, the one in which a turkey has a perfectly consistent set of longitudinal data, stretching over nearly a year demonstrating the existence of a perfectly predictable world in which the sun will rise every morning and the farmer will feed the turkey. Then comes the day before Thanksgiving, and the farmer turns up with an axe.

Be warned: reading books like those by Beck and Taleb may reinforce skepticism of claims to scientific and other expertise. But think about it. Which world would you rather live in: One where careful scientists slowly develop hypotheses and look systematically for evidence to test them? Or a world in which our natural human tendency to magical thinking has no brake at all?

For his leading me to these thoughts, I do, indeed, mourn the death of Ulrich Beck.

Ulrich Beck obituaries by Lash and Latour (Art Forum)

Ulrich Beck. Photo: Augsburger Allgemeine.

I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Ulrich Beck as a (superannuated) postdoc. I was a Humboldt Stipendiat in Berlin, where in 1987, I heard the sociologist Helmuth Berking give a paper on Beck’s “Reflexive Modernisierung” (Reflexive Modernization) at a Freie Universität colloquium. I had already published a paper called “Postmodernity and Desire” in the journal Theory and Society, and Beck’s notion of reflexive modernization seemed to point to an opening beyond the modern/postmodern impasse. Today, Foucault, Deleuze, and even Lebenssoziologie (Life sociology) are all present in German intellectual life. But in 1987, this kind of stuff was beyond the pale. Habermas and Enlightenment modernism ruled. And rightly so: It is largely thanks to Habermas that Germany now is a land rooted less in fiercely nationalistic Blut und Boden (Blood-and-Soil) than in a more pluralistic Verfassungspatriotismus (Constitutional Patriotism).

Beck’s foundational Risikogesellschaft (Risk Society), however, abandoned the order of Habermas’s “ideal speech situation” for contingency and unintended consequences. This was hardly a celebration of contingency; Beckian contingency was rooted in the Chernobyl disaster; it was literally a poison, or in German a Gift. Hence Beck’s subsequent book was entitled Gegengift, or “Counter-poison.” It was subtitled Die organisierte Unverantwortlichkeit (The Organized Irresponsibility). Beck’s point was that institutions needed to be responsible for a politics of antidote that would address the unintentional generation of environmental crises. This was a critique of systematic institutional irresponsibility—or more literally “un-responsibility”—for ecological disaster. Beck’s thinking became more broadly accepted in Germany over the years. Yet the radically original themes of contingency and unintended consequences remained central to Beck’s own vision of modernity and inspired a generation of scholars.

Beck’s influence has been compared by Joan Subirats, writing in in El País, to that of Zygmunt Baumanand Richard Sennett. Yet there is little in Bauman’s idea of liquidity to match the power of Beck’s understanding of reflexivity. It was based in a sociology of knowledge in which the universal of the concept could never subsume the particular of the empirical. At the same time, Beck’s subject was still knowledge, not the impossibility of knowledge and inevitability of the irrational (not, in other words, the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns” that have proved so damaging to contemporary political thought). Beck’s reflexivity, then, was not just about a Kant’s What can I know?—it was just as much a question of the Kantian What should I do? and especially What can I hope?

For Beck, “un-responsible” institutions were still situated in what he referred to as “simple modernity.” They would need to deal with modernity’s ecological contingency in order to be reflexive. They would need to be aware of unintended consequences, of what environmental economists (and later the theory of cognitive capitalism) would understand as “externalities.” Beck’s reflexivity extended to his later work on cosmopolitanism and Europe. For him, Europe is not an ordering of states as atoms, in which one is very much like the other. It is instead a collection of singularities. Hence his criticism of German Europe’s “Merkiavelli”-ism in treating Greece and the European South as if all were uniform Teutonic entities to be subject to the principle of austerity.

Though Beck has remained highly influential, Bruno Latour’s “actor-network” theory has outstripped his ideas in terms of popularity, establishing a dominant paradigm among sociologists. Yet the instrumentalist assumptions of actor-network theory do not open up the ethical or hopeful dimension of Beck’s work. The latter has been a counter-poison, an antidote to the instrumentalism at the heart of today’s neoliberal politics, in which our singularity has been eroded under the banner of a uniform and possessive individualism. Because of the contingency at its heart, Beck’s work could never become a dominant paradigm.

Beck’s ideas clearly drove the volume Reflexive Modernization, which he, Anthony Giddens, and I published in 1994. There, I developed a notion of “aesthetic reflexivity,” and although in some ways I am more of a Foucault, Deleuze, and perhaps Walter Benjamin guy, Beck’s ideas still drive my own work today. Thus we should extend Beckian reflexivity to speak of a reflexive community, and of a necessary risk-sharing that must be at the heart of any contemporary politics of the commons.

I was offered the post to be Ulrich’s Nachfolger (successor) at University of Bamberg when he moved to Munich in 1992. In the end, I decided to stay in the UK, but we kept in touch. Although to a certain extent I’ve become a cultural theorist, Ulrich always treated me as a sociologist, and he was right: When I attended his seventieth birthday party in April 2014, all of cultural Munich was there, from newspaper editors to museum directors. Every February, when he was based at the London School of Economics, Ulrich and his wife Elisabeth would spend a Sunday afternoon with Celia Lury and me at our house in Finsbury Park/Highbury, enjoying a lunch of Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) and deli cheeses and hams. No more than a fortnight before his death Ulrich emailed me about February 2015. I replied sadly that I would be in Asia and for the first time would miss this annual Sunday gathering. At his seventieth birthday Ulrich was in rude health. I was honestly looking forward to his eightieth. Now neither the Islington Sundays nor the eightieth birthday will happen. It is sad.

Scott Lash is the Research Director at the Center for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.

*  *  *

Ulrich Beck, 2007.

THE DEATH OF ULRICH BECK is terrible news. It is a tragedy for his family, for his research team, and for his many colleagues and friends, but it is also a tragedy for European thought.

Ulrich was a public intellectual of the infinitely rare kind in Germany, one that was thought only to exist in France. But he had a very individual way—and not at all French—of exercising this authority of thought: There was nothing of the intellectual critic in him. All his energy, his generosity, his infinite kindness, were put in the service of discovering what actors were in the midst of changing about their way of producing the social world. So for him, it was not about discovering the existing laws of such a world or about verifying, under new circumstances, the stability of old conceptions of sociology. No: It was the innovations in ways of being in the world that interested him above all. What’s more, he didn’t burden himself with a unified, seemingly scientific apparatus in order to locate those innovations. Objectivity, in his eyes, was going to come from his ability to modify the explanatory framework of sociology at the same time as actors modified their way of connecting to one another. His engagement consisted of simply prolonging the innovations he observed in them, innovations from which he was able to extricate power.

This ability to modify the explanatory framework was something that Ulrich would first manifest in his invention of the concept of Risikogesellschaft (risk society), which was initially so difficult to comprehend. By the term risk, he didn’t mean that life was more dangerous than before, but that the production of risks was henceforth a constituent part of modern life and that it was foolhardy to pretend that we were going to take control of them. To the contrary, it was necessary to replace the question of the mode of production and of the unequal distribution of wealth with the symmetrical question of the mode of production and the unequal distribution of ills. Coincidentally, the same year that he proposed the term Risikogesellschaft, the catastrophe of Chernobyl lent his diagnostic an indisputable significance—a diagnostic that current ecological transformations have only reinforced.

In turning the uneven division of ills into the common thread of his inquiries, Ulrich would gradually change the vocabulary of the social sciences. And, first and foremost, he changed the understanding of the relationship between societies and their environment. Everything that had seemed to be outside of culture—and outside of sociology—he would gradually reintegrate, because the consequences of industrial, scientific, and military actions were henceforth part of the very definition of communal life. Everything that modernity had decided to put off until later, or simply to deny, needed to become the very content of collective existence. Hence the delicate and intensely discussed expression “reflexive modernity” or “second modernity.”

This attention to risk would, in turn, modify all the usual ingredients of the social sciences: First, politics—its conventional definition gradually being emptied of its content while Ulrich’s notion of “subpolitics” spread everywhere—but also psychology, the elements of which never ceased to change, along with the limits of collectives. Even love, to which he devoted two books with his wife Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, who is so grief stricken today. Yes, Ulrich Beck went big. Perhaps this is why, on a visit to Munich, he was keen to take me on a pilgrimage to Max Weber’s house. The magnitude of Beck’s conceptions, the audacity of trying to rethink—with perfect modesty and without any pretension of style, without considering himself to be the great innovator that he was—truly made him a descendant of Weber. Like him, Beck wanted sociology to encompass everything.

What makes Beck’s death all the harder to accept, for everyone following his work, is that for many years he was making the social sciences undergo a kind of de-nationalization of its methods and theoretical frameworks. Like the question of risk, the question of cosmopolitism (or better, of cosmopolitanism) was one of his great concerns. By this venerable term, he was not designating some call for the universal human, but the redefinition of humans belonging to something other than nation-states. Because his investigations constantly butted against the obstacle of collected facts managed, conceived of, and diffused by and for states—which clearly made impossible any objective approach toward the new kinds of associations for which the empty term globalization did not allow—the methods of examination themselves had to be radically modified. In this, he was succeeding, as can be seen in the impressive expansion of his now leaderless research group.

Beck manifested this mistrust of the nation-state framework in a series of books, articles, and even pamphlets on the incredible experience of the construction of Europe, a phenomenon so admirable and yet so constantly disdained. He imagined a Europe of new affiliations, as opposed to a Europe of nation-states (and, in particular, in contrast to a uniquely Germanic or French conception of the state). How sad it is to think that such an essential question, yet one that is of interest to so few thinkers, can no longer be discussed with him.

I cannot imagine a sadder way to greet the new year, especially considering that Beck’s many research projects (we were just talking about them again in Paris a few weeks ago) addressed the most urgent questions of 2015: How to react to the world’s impotence on the question of climate change? How to find an adequate response to the resurgences of nationalisms? How to reconsider Europe through conceptions of territory and identity that are not a crude and completely obsolete reprise of sovereignty? That European thought has lost at this precise moment such a source of intelligence, innovation, and method is a true tragedy. When Beck asked, in a recent interview, “How does the transformative power of global risk (Weltrisikogesellschaft) transform politics?” no one could have suspected that he was going to leave us with the anxiety of finding the answer alone.

Bruno Latour is professor at Sciences Po Paris and Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics.

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.

A version of this text was published in German on January 5 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Pope Francis Says No to Fracking (Eco Watch)

 | January 12, 2015 9:07 am

We’ve been busy lately providing news on all the great ways Pope Francis is working to create a healthy, sustainable planet. In July 2014, Pope Francis called destruction of nature a modern sin. In November 2014, Pope Francis said “unbridled consumerism” is destroying our planetand we are “stewards, not masters” of the Earth. In December 2014, he said he will increase his call this year to address climate change. And, last week we announced that Pope Francis is opening his Vatican farm to the public.

Now, we learn from Nicolás Fedor Sulcic that Pope Francis is supportive of the anti-fracking movement. Watch this interview by Fernando Solanas where he met with Pope Francis soon after finishing a film about fracking in Argentina.

The movie, La Guerra del Fracking or The Fracking War, was banned in cinemas by the Argentinian government, so the filmmakers decided to post it on YouTube. We are awaiting translation of the film and then we’ll feature it on EcoWatch.

“When I was doing research for the film, every time I’d ask someone if they knew what fracking was they had no idea,” said Sulcic. The problem was that “the government didn’t call it fracking, they called it ‘non conventional gas’ so no one was making the link to what was happening in Argentina to what was happening America. I got really mad and knew something had to be done to make people aware of what was going on. I saw the website Artist Against Fracking and felt that was a very good example of what was needed to be done here to take the cause to more people rather than just environmental activists.”

With support by Peace Nobel prize Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Oscar winning Juan Jose Campanella and other very well known Argentinian intellectuals and social leaders, a website was launched to help raise awareness about the dangers of fracking Argentina.

Risk analysis for a complex world (Science Daily)

Date: November 18, 2014

Source: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Summary: Developing adaptable systems for finance and international relations could help reduce the risk of major systemic collapses such as the 2008 financial crisis, according to a new analysis.

Developing adaptable systems for finance and international relations could help reduce the risk of major systemic collapses such as the 2008 financial crisis, according to a new analysis.

The increasing complexity and interconnection of socioeconomic and environmental systems leaves them more vulnerable to seemingly small risks that can spiral out of control, according to the new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study examines risks are perceived as extremely unlikely or small, but because of interconnections or changes in systems, can lead to major collapses or crises. These risks, which the researchers term “femtorisks,” can include individuals such as terrorists, dissidents, or rogue traders, or factors like climate change, technologies, or globalization.

“A femtorisk is a seemingly small-scale event that can trigger, often through complex chains of events, consequences at much higher levels of organization,” says Princeton University professor and IIASA Distinguished Visiting Fellow Simon Levin, who adopted the term (originally suggested by co-organizer Joshua Ramo) together with an international group of experts during a 2011 IIASA conference on risk modeling in complex adaptive systems.

Levin explains, “A complex adaptive system is a system made up of individual agents that interact locally, with consequences at much higher levels of organization, which feed back in turn to affect individual behaviors. The individual agents can be anything from cells and molecules, to birds in a flock, to traders in a market, to each and every one of us in the global environment.”

The complexity of such systems makes it difficult or even impossible to model the outcomes of specific changes or risks, particularly very small or seemingly insignificant ones. The study examines several examples of such femtorisks that set off major crises, including the credit default swaps that led to the 2008 financial crisis, the recent protests in the Middle East and Ukraine that led to the broad upheavals in both regions’ political systems, and the warming temperatures in the Arctic that have led to massive international interest in the region for mining and economic development.

Risk management for an unpredictable world 

In light of such unpredictable risks, the researchers say, the most resilient management systems are those that can adapt to sudden threats that have not been explicitly foreseen. In particular, the researchers suggest a model drawing on biological systems such as the vertebrate immune system, which have evolved to respond to unpredictable threats and adapt to new situations.

“In practice it is generally impossible to identify which of these risks will end up being the important ones,” says Levin. “That is why flexible and adaptive governance is essential.”

The general principles of such management include: effective surveillance, generalized and immediate initial responses, learning and adaptive responses, and memory, say the researchers. Levin says, “We need to design systems to automatically limit the potential for catastrophic contagious spread of damage, and to complement that with effective and flexible adaptive responses.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Aaron Benjamin Frank, Margaret Goud Collins, Simon A. Levin, Andrew W. Lo, Joshua Ramo, Ulf Dieckmann, Victor Kremenyuk, Arkady Kryazhimskiy, JoAnne Linnerooth-Bayer, Ben Ramalingam, J. Stapleton Roy, Donald G. Saari, Stefan Thurner, Detlof von Winterfeldt. Dealing with femtorisks in international relationsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; 201400229 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1400229111

Falta de chuva reforça necessidade de usinas nucleares, dizem especialistas (Agência Brasil)

Especialistas participaram do 3º Seminário sobre Energia Nuclear, na Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ)

A falta de chuva em diversas regiões do país, principalmente no Sudeste, aponta para a necessidade de se prosseguir com os investimentos em usinas nucleares. A seca, além de afetar o fornecimento de água para a população, também compromete a geração de energia das usinas hidrelétricas, aumentando a importância das nucleares. A avaliação é de especialistas que participaram do 3º Seminário sobre Energia Nuclear, na Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), iniciado ontem, 7, e que se encerra nesta quarta-feira, 8.

O presidente das Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB), Aquilino Senra, frisou que a matriz energética brasileira é muito baseada na hidreletricidade, que vem sendo afetada pelas reiteradas e prolongadas secas nos últimos anos.

“No Brasil, a produção hídrica contribui com 92% de toda energia gerada. Os 8% restantes vêm de uma complementação térmica, na qual a nuclear tem um papel de 4%. Essa situação de baixos reservatórios levará a uma tomada de decisão mais rápida sobre a expansão da produção de energia nuclear. É inevitável, nas próximas décadas, um potencial de crescimento nuclear”, disse Senra.

O supervisor da Gerência de Análise de Segurança Nuclear da Eletronuclear, Edson Kuramoto, disse que a menor quantidade de chuva nos últimos anos forçou o governo a utilizar totalmente as usinas térmicas, incluindo as nucleares, para garantir o fornecimento. “Hoje está demonstrado que a matriz energética brasileiras é hidrotérmica.

Desde 2012, com a redução das chuvas, os reservatórios estão baixos e as térmicas foram despachadas justamente para complementar a falta da geração hidráulica. A energia nuclear tem que ser lembrada, porque o Brasil domina o ciclo e nós temos grandes reservas do combustível”, disse Kuramoto.

Segundo Kuramoto, além das usinas Angra 1 e 2, já em funcionamento, e Angra 3, em construção, o país precisará de pelo menos mais quatro usinas nucleares, sendo duas no Nordeste e duas no Sudeste. “O potencial de hidrelétricas que temos ainda é no Norte do país, mas está difícil o licenciamento de novas usinas com reservatórios. No passado, nossas hidrelétricas suportavam um recesso de chuvas de seis ou sete meses, hoje é três meses. Então o país vai ter que investir nas usinas térmicas. Até 2030, finda o nosso potencial hidráulico. A partir daí, o Brasil terá de construir novas térmicas, sejam nucleares, a gás, óleo combustível ou carvão.”

Segundo o presidente da INB, o Brasil tem garantidas reservas de urânio pelos próximos 120 anos pelo menos. Isso garante um custo baixo do combustível, que ainda tem a vantagem de não emitir gases de efeito estufa. Para Senra, a questão da segurança, muito questionada por causa do acidente da Usina de Fukushima, no Japão, já está solucionada com as novas gerações de usinas.

“Os reatores de Fukushima são de segunda geração. Os que estão começando a ser instalados agora são de terceira geração e neles não ocorreriam acidentes como os que já ocorreram, seja em 1979, nos Estados Unidos [em Three Mile Island, Pensilvânia], ou em 1986, em Chernobil [Ucrânia], e em 2011, em Fukishima”, explicou Senra.

(Vladimir Platonow/Agência Brasil)

Inside the teenage brain: New studies explain risky behavior (Science Daily)

Date: August 27, 2014

Source: Florida State University

Summary: It’s common knowledge that teenage boys seem predisposed to risky behaviors. Now, a series of new studies is shedding light on specific brain mechanisms that help to explain what might be going on inside juvenile male brains.

Young man (stock image). “Psychologists, psychiatrists, educators, neuroscientists, criminal justice professionals and parents are engaged in a daily struggle to understand and solve the enigma of teenage risky behaviors,” Bhide said. “Such behaviors impact not only the teenagers who obviously put themselves at serious and lasting risk but also families and societies in general. Credit: © iko / Fotolia

It’s common knowledge that teenage boys seem predisposed to risky behaviors. Now, a series of new studies is shedding light on specific brain mechanisms that help to explain what might be going on inside juvenile male brains.

Florida State University College of Medicine Neuroscientist Pradeep Bhide brought together some of the world’s foremost researchers in a quest to explain why teenagers — boys, in particular — often behave erratically.

The result is a series of 19 studies that approached the question from multiple scientific domains, including psychology, neurochemistry, brain imaging, clinical neuroscience and neurobiology. The studies are published in a special volume of Developmental Neuroscience, “Teenage Brains: Think Different?”

“Psychologists, psychiatrists, educators, neuroscientists, criminal justice professionals and parents are engaged in a daily struggle to understand and solve the enigma of teenage risky behaviors,” Bhide said. “Such behaviors impact not only the teenagers who obviously put themselves at serious and lasting risk but also families and societies in general.

“The emotional and economic burdens of such behaviors are quite huge. The research described in this book offers clues to what may cause such maladaptive behaviors and how one may be able to devise methods of countering, avoiding or modifying these behaviors.”

An example of findings published in the book that provide new insights about the inner workings of a teenage boy’s brain:

• Unlike children or adults, teenage boys show enhanced activity in the part of the brain that controls emotions when confronted with a threat. Magnetic resonance scanner readings in one study revealed that the level of activity in the limbic brain of adolescent males reacting to threat, even when they’ve been told not to respond to it, was strikingly different from that in adult men.

• Using brain activity measurements, another team of researchers found that teenage boys were mostly immune to the threat of punishment but hypersensitive to the possibility of large gains from gambling. The results question the effectiveness of punishment as a deterrent for risky or deviant behavior in adolescent boys.

• Another study demonstrated that a molecule known to be vital in developing fear of dangerous situations is less active in adolescent male brains. These findings point towards neurochemical differences between teenage and adult brains, which may underlie the complex behaviors exhibited by teenagers.

“The new studies illustrate the neurobiological basis of some of the more unusual but well-known behaviors exhibited by our teenagers,” Bhide said. “Stress, hormonal changes, complexities of psycho-social environment and peer-pressure all contribute to the challenges of assimilation faced by teenagers.

“These studies attempt to isolate, examine and understand some of these potential causes of a teenager’s complex conundrum. The research sheds light on how we may be able to better interact with teenagers at home or outside the home, how to design educational strategies and how best to treat or modify a teenager’s maladaptive behavior.”

Bhide conceived and edited “Teenage Brains: Think Different?” His co-editors were Barry Kasofsky and B.J. Casey, both of Weill Medical College at Cornell University. The book was published by Karger Medical and Scientific Publisher of Basel, Switzerland. More information on the book can be found at:

The table of contents to the special journal volume can be found at:

Cientistas pedem limite à criação de vírus mortais em laboratório (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4991, de 17 de julho de 2014

Falhas em unidades americanas elevam riscos de surtos

Um grupo multidisciplinar de cientistas de importantes universidades em diferentes países publicou ontem um alerta sobre a manipulação, em laboratórios norte-americanos, de vírus que podem se espalhar e infectar homens e outros mamíferos. A preocupação vem na esteira de seguidas notícias sobre falhas de envolvendo micro-organismos potencialmente perigosos.

“Incidentes recentes com varíola, antraz e gripe aviária em alguns dos mais importantes laboratórios dos EUA nos faz lembrar da falibilidade até das unidades mais seguras, reforçando a necessidade urgente de uma reavaliação completa de biossegurança”, escreveu o autodenominado “Grupo de Trabalho de Cambridge”, composto de pesquisadores das universidades de Harvard, Yale, Ottawa, entre outras.

No alerta, eles relatam que incidentes com patógenos têm aumentado e ocorrido em média duas vezes por semana em laboratórios privados e públicos do país. A informação é de um estudo de 2012 do periódico “Applied Biosafety”.

– Quando vemos algum caso na imprensa, dá a impressão de que são episódios raros, mas não são – comentou Amir Attaran, da Universidade de Ottawa, um dos cientistas que assinou o documento. – Estamos preocupados com as experiências perigosas que estão sendo feitas para projetar os mais infecciosos e mortais vírus da gripe e da síndrome respiratória aguda grave (Sars). Achamos que essa ciência imprudente e insensata pode ferir ou matar um grande número de pessoas. O Centro de Controle de Prevenção de Doenças, na semana passada, admitiu que laboratórios de alta segurança perderam o controle com algumas amostras.

No último caso, frascos de varíola foram encontrados por acaso num depósito inutilizado de um laboratório federal em Washington. Estima-se que eles estivessem ali há mais de 50 anos.

Attaran comparou o pronunciamento do grupo ao que cientistas fizeram em 1943, antes dos bombardeios de Hiroshima, na Segunda Guerra Mundial. E disse que o risco dessas experiências são maiores do que os possíveis benefícios dessas pesquisas, citando a recriação in vitro do vírus da gripe espanhola, de 1918, que matou 40 milhões de pessoas. Em 2006, cientistas fizeram a experiência num laboratório americano.

– Não é para ficarmos alarmados aqui – garante Volnei Garrafa, coordenador do Programa de Pós-Graduação em Bioética da UnB e membro do Comitê Internacional de Bioética da Unesco. – Mas a preocupação deles é válida, sempre há riscos, e o governo precisaria se posicionar.

Incidentes recentes envolvendo varíola, antraz e gripe aviária em alguns dos mais importantes laboratórios dos Estados Unidos nos faz lembrar da falibilidade até das unidades mais seguras, reforçando a necessidade urgente de uma reavaliação completa de biossegurança. Tais incidentes têm aumentado e ocorrido em média duas vezes por semana com patógenos regulados em laboratórios privados e públicos do país. Uma infecção acidental com qualquer patógeno é preocupante. Mas riscos de acidente com os recém-criados ‘patógenos potencialmente pandêmicos’ levanta novas graves preocupações.

A criação em laboratório de novas cepas de vírus perigosos e altamente transmissíveis, especialmente de gripe, mas não apenas dela, apresenta riscos substancialmente maiores. Uma infecção acidental em tal situação poderia desencadear surtos que poderiam ser difíceis ou impossíveis de controlar. Historicamente, novas cepas de gripe, uma vez que comecem a transmissão na população humana, infectaram um quarto ou mais da população mundial em dois anos.

Para qualquer experimento, os benefícios esperados deveriam superar os riscos. Experiências envolvendo a criação de patógenos potencialmente pandêmicos deveria ser limitada até que haja uma avaliação quantitativa, objetiva e confiável, dos possíveis benefícios e oportunidades de mitigação de riscos, assim como a comparação contra abordagens experimentais mais seguras.

Uma versão moderna do processo Asilomar, que define regras para pesquisas com DNA recombinante, poderia ser um ponto de partida para identificar as melhores medidas para se atingir os objetivos de saúde pública global no combate a doenças pandêmicas e assegurar os mais altos níveis de segurança. Sempre que possível, a segurança deve ser prioridade em detrimento a ações que tenham risco de pandemia acidental.

(Flávia Milhorance / O Globo)

Tourism, Construction and an Ongoing Nuclear Crisis at Chernobyl (Newsweek)

By  / April 17, 2014 12:11 PM EDT


From high-end tourism to one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects, strange things are happening at the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, which could still kill plenty of people Stephan Vanfleteren/Panos

We climb eight flights of stairs. Eight more remain. This is sturdy Soviet concrete, dusty as death, but solid. So I hope, anyway. My guide, Katya, who is in her early 20s, has informed me that the administrators of the Exclusion Zone that encompasses Chernobyl do not want tourists entering the buildings of Pripyat for what appears to be an unimpeachable reason: Some of them could collapse.

But the roof of this apartment building on the edge of Pripyat, the city where Chernobyl’s employees lived until the spring of 1986, will provide what Katya says is the best panorama of this Ukrainian Pompeii and the infamous nuclear power plant, 1.9 miles away, that 28 years ago this week rendered the surrounding landscape uninhabitable for at least the next 20,000 years. So we climb on, higher into the honey-colored vernal light, even as it occurs to me that Katya is not a structural engineer. And that the adjective Soviet is essentially synonymous with collapse.

And what do I know? Nothing. I am just a curious ethnic hyphenate, Russian-born and largely American-raised. In 1986 we lived in Leningrad, about 700 miles north of the radioactive sore that burst on what should have been an ordinary spring night less than a week before the annual May Day celebration. Considering that Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev wasn’t told for many hours what, exactly, had transpired at Chernobyl (“Not a word about an explosion,” he said later), you can safely extrapolate to what the Soviet populace learned on April 26: absolutely nothing. But a couple of days after the disaster, a family friend from Kiev called and said we had better cancel our planned vacation in the Ukrainian countryside.

Then details started falling into place, as workers at a Swedish nuclear power plant detected radiation, eventually determining that it came from the Soviet Union. That forced the ever-defensive Kremlin’s hand, which admitted on April 28 that an accident had happened at Chernobyl. “A government commission has been set up,” a statement from Moscow assured. My father, a nervous physicist himself, was not mollified. I remember, as clearly as I remember anything of my Soviet youth, his telling me to stay out of the rain.

The narrative of Chernobyl has been told so many times, there is no point in regurgitating all of it here. Very briefly: a shoddy Soviet reactor, moderated by graphite instead of water; a turbine generator coastdown test that senselessly called for the disabling of all emergency systems; the reactor’s fall into an “iodine valley” and the consequent poisoning of the reactor by xenon-135; the incompetence and impatience of the plant’s managers, especially of Anatoly Dyatlov, a supervising engineer who stubbornly drove the test forward and would later serve prison time for his role in the night’s events; the indefensible lifting of all but six of the 211 control rods; the reactor going prompt supercritical; the inability to fully reinsert the control rods, leading to steam explosions and graphite fires; a biblical pillar of radioactive flame surging into the sky.

A cross with a crucifix is seen in the deserted Ukrainian town of Pripyat November 27, 2012. The town's population was evacuated following the  disaster at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986.A cross with a crucifix is seen in the deserted Ukrainian town of Pripyat November 27, 2012. The town’s population was evacuated following the disaster at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986.

Through it all, two off-the-clock workers fished in a nearby coolant pond. They continued to fish until the morning, receiving enormous doses of radiation yet somehow surviving. Theirs may be the only feel-good story of the night.

The toxic cloud that enveloped much of Europe that spring has intrigued me ever since. I can name all of the radionuclides it contained: cesium-137, iodine-131, zirconium-95 strontium-90, ruthenium-103…. But I longed to know its origins, the way a naturalist might yearn to see the source of a river somewhere high in the mountains, simply to fulfill the human need to discover beginnings and pay homage to them.

I also happen to be a journalist and now find myself in Ukraine when it is at the center of world events, as opposed to the periphery where most former Soviet states languish (when was the last time CNN did a gripping live remote from Uzbekistan?). Except I am about 90 miles north of Kiev, the site of the Maidan uprising, the epicenter of a conflict that has Russian President Vladimir Putin sharpening his swords again. Everyone else is reporting on Crimea, possible NATO retributions, a new Cold War…and here I am, in the midst of this “weirdish wild space” (h/t Dr. Seuss).

Katya is right. Not only do the stairs hold, but the view from the roof, 16 floors above Pripyat, is spectacular. Winter singes the air; nothing yet blooms. There is a severe beauty that is particularly Slavic, the earth at once fecund and stark. The white quadrangles of Pripyat seem to have risen up between the trees that grow thickly right up into Belarus, encompassing a forbidden zone of a thousand square miles. The V.I. Lenin Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station (the official name of what the world knows as Chernobyl) is visible in the distance as a squat collection of shapes, emitting equal parts radioactivity and mystery.

That apartment building was part of my two-day excursion into Chernobyl, one that quickly dispelled any notions that this swath of Eastern Europe is a radioactive wasteland. Or, rather, only a radioactive wasteland. I can’t quite believe that I am saying this, but tourism to Chernobyl is booming. There were 870 visitors in 2004, two years after the Ukrainian government allowed (some) access to the Exclusion Zone. Today, the Kiev-based tour company SoloEast says it takes 12,000 tourists to Chernobyl a year, which accounts for 70 percent of the pleasure-visitors heading there (including myself). I even stayed at a luxury hotel of sorts, a neo-rustic cottage that featured towel warmers and a sign that said, “Please keep your radioactive shoes outside.”

For the most part, the defunct station of reactors (the first went live in 1977; the last, the one that blew, in 1983) looks like a tidy industrial park in central Ohio: shorn green lawns, a smattering of abstract art, half-empty parking lots, a canal rife with fish. Nothing indicates that this is the site of the worst nuclear disaster in human history.

Yet as tourists Instagram away at Pripyat’s ruins, Chernobyl is undergoing one of the most challenging engineering feats in the world, as a French consortium called Novarka tries to replace the aging sarcophagus that contains the reactor, a concrete shell hastily and heroically built in the direct aftermath of the meltdown. The place remains a half-opened tinderbox of potential nuclear horrors, and just because much of the world has forgotten about Chernobyl doesn’t mean catastrophe won’t visit here again.

But don’t let that detract from your sightseeing.

Pictures of Soviet era politicians in an abandoned building in Pripyat the abandoned town which was built to house workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Pripyat, Ukraine 2006. Stephan Vanfleteren/PanosPictures of Soviet era politicians in an abandoned building in Pripyat the abandoned town which was built to house workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Pripyat, Ukraine 2006. Stephan Vanfleteren/Panos


Of the many atrocities committed against this swath of north-central Ukrainian soil, the most recent may be the American horror movie Chernobyl Diaries (2012), which meticulously sticks to every outworn convention of the horror genre, as if deviating from such would be a terror of its own. The poor viewer is presented with a group of happy-go-lucky young travelers, mostly American, respectively buxom and bro-ish; a goonish Ukrainian tour guide with the locution of a Neanderthal; and a Pripyat rendered in such an unrelentingly grim color palette that I thought the director (one Bradley Parker) may have smeared dirt and moss over his camera lenses.

The characters, wishing to “see some cool s**t,” embark on a tour of Pripyat. All fine so far, just a little atmospheric unease. As night falls and the familiar, beery comforts of Kiev beckon, their van (surprise!) refuses to start. There follow many expressions of misplaced machismo, terror/wonder and good old animal fear, expressed in the purest clichés imaginable:

“We paid for this tour, bro.”

“This looks pretty f**king sketchy.”

And, inevitably, “Oh, s**t.”

At one point, a character asks the question that is central to all hackneyed horror movies: “Are you sure we are out here alone?” You can figure out what happens from there. In any case, I certainly can’t tell you, as I stopped watching about three quarters of the way through, having completed what I felt were my journalistic duties and not wishing to subject myself to this cinematic torture any longer. I do remember a pack of feral hamsters. Or something.

Katya, my tour guide, told me that American visitors are afraid of mutants lurking in the tenebrous alleys and dilapidated buildings of Pripyat. She finds this misguided concern easier to manage, however, than the fearless attitude of Polish and Russian visitors, who she says will climb into and over everything without any of the corporeal concerns one might harbor when exploring an abandoned, radioactive metropolis.

School books and papers in an abandoned preschool in the deserted city of Pripyat on January 25, 2006 in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Daniel Berehulak/PanosSchool books and papers in an abandoned preschool in the deserted city of Pripyat on January 25, 2006 in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Daniel Berehulak/Panos

Igor, our driver, a Baptist with a Hebraically world-weary sense of humor, found it especially amusing that one American visitor thought that a covered walkway between two buildings was an elevated subway. Igor made several comments about the general naivete of Americans, perhaps suspecting that I enjoyed them. Most of the time, he simply remained in the car sleeping or listening to religious radio, including at one point a lengthy sermon on marriage that he did not turn down for my benefit. He has been to Chernobyl 500 times, and it bores him, he says.

Pripyat did not bore me. It is often called a ghost city, because after the Chernobyl explosion-though not immediately after it, tragically-the majority of the 49,000 residents of this town, 17,000 of whom were children, were ordered onto 1,216 buses and 300 trucks that had come from Kiev, without the basic explanation any neophyte emergency-management student would know to provide.

Of the many books written about Chernobyl, the only one I can confidently say you have to read is Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. It is the ordinary voices that make this book extraordinary. For example, this is how Lyudmilla Ignatenko describes the evacuation from Pripyat:

It’s night. On one side of the street there are buses, hundreds of buses, they’re already preparing the town for evacuation, and on the other side, hundreds of fire trucks. They came from all over…. Over the radio they tell us they might evacuate the city for three to five days, take your warm clothes with you, you’ll be living in the forest. In tents. People were even glad-a camping trip!

Ignatenko’s husband, Vasily, was one of the firemen sent immediately after the explosions right into the reactor’s maw, where the radiation was far above the lethal dose. More than 20 would die from the exposure. In Voices From Chernobyl, she recalls someone telling her, as she watches Vasily expire in a Moscow hospital, that “this is not your husband anymore, not a beloved person, but a radioactive object with a strong density of poisoning.”

Pripyat is less a ghost town than a museum in handsome disarray. An excellent museum all the same, surely the most authentic record of the Soviet debacle that remains (other than Russia itself). A pretty good one of nuclear energy, too. I have been back to my native Leningrad twice. I have stood in front of the plain cinderblock building where I was raised; have squeezed into a desk in the very same classroom where I was once a Pioneer and where, as I bathed in nostalgia, bored post-Soviet teenagers texted away; have posed humorously in front of the Lenin statue at Finland Station with the native Californian who would become my wife. And these were all fine pricks of memory. Pripyat, though, was a hammer. With sickle.

A view of the control center of the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant February 24, 2011. Gleb Garanich/ReutersA view of the control center of the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant February 24, 2011. Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Not to get all William Wordsworth-at-Tintern-Abbey on you, but there was immense power in walking through a graveyard of gas masks on a classroom floor, or the fresh-meat station of what had once been a bustling supermarket, or the natal unit of a hospital, rusted cribs still looking, after all these years, as if they had just been robbed of their newborn contents. I don’t want to claim to have heard the same “still, sad music of humanity” that famously played to Wordsworth on the banks of the River Wye, but, well, Pripyat is the most life-affirming place that I have ever been to, despite all the suffering that lingers there. For all the cancers, deaths, irradiations and lives broken, the place remains, and there is something to be said for brute rage-against-the-dying-of-the-light survival.

Pripyat is not receding in my mind, the way so many great museums have. Sometimes, what the soul needs is not a masterpiece. And so dusty Pripyat seems to have lodged, like a radioactive particle, into some deep neural fold: slippers on a hospital floor, a rusted circuit box, a piano that can still manage a plangent note or two. Outside the music school, a colorful chaos of mosaic tiles littered the pavement. Katya leaned down, then hesitated. “I would give you some to take, but you have a daughter.”

We carried a dosimeter with us at all times; Igor, my driver, also had a beta ray detector in his car, which looked like an ancient remote control and remained largely inert. The dosimeter, meanwhile, would make its anxious clicks, but other than in a hot zone in front of a kindergarten, it rarely exceeded 3 or 4 microsieverts per hour-it read 3.88 µSv/h several hundred feet from the ruined reactor. That’s less than what you get bombarded with on a round-trip flight between San Francisco and Paris (6.4 µSv/h). Igor especially delighted in pointing out this fact; he shares that proclivity with a great number of individuals on the Internet, where numerous websites are devoted to gleefully chronicling the radioactivity of bananas (pretty high; it’s the potassium), Brazil nuts (the most radioactive food on Earth) and simply having a loved one sleep next to you (.05 microsieverts per night). I assault you with all these facts, in the manner of my Chernobyl guides, to simply point out that we are no more screwed in Pripyat than we are in Monterey or Omaha or Manhattan.

After our forays into Pripyat and the power plant, we would leave the Exclusion Zone, which one is allowed to do only after passing several dosimeter checks, conducted via ancient-looking olive machines that appeared (to my admittedly inexpert eye) to be as effective at detecting radiation as Mr. Magoo is at driving. Anyway, I passed. There was also a lot of handing over of paperwork to surly Ukrainian guards, who would probably rather be battling Russian invaders than inspecting the passports of American journalists. After several needlessly tense moments, the guards would allow us to pass, and Igor would speed down the empty roads of northern Ukraine, often while furiously texting. He did not wear a seat belt, and neither did I. It would have been a grave insult to do so.

Until very recently, the only places to stay while visiting Chernobyl were two small motels in the Exclusion Zone, which would have been reason enough not to come, at least for a spoiled American used to Western comforts (i.e., me). One tour company, in a heartwarming but ominous display of honesty, describes one of these motels, unimaginatively named “Pripyat,” to be “Soviet-style simplistic,” which is probably the worst hospitality-industry endorsement imaginable.

This yuppie reporter’s savior proved to be Countryside Cottages, a pleasantly rustic cabin-cum-hotel set on a bucolic and fenced-in landscape in the village of Orane, on the banks of the Teteriv River. The cottage is outside the Exclusion Zone, with its strange currents of tranquillity and unease: You can walk about the village freely without having to undergo dosimetry checks. By my count, Countryside Cottages, which has now been open for about two years, is the closest-and only-good place to stay near Chernobyl. The best adjective to describe it is Western, and if you have ever traveled beyond the West, you will know what I mean. Yes, the electricity did go out one evening, but only briefly, certainly not long enough to steal the chill from the horseradish vodka in the fridge. There was also a fancy coffee machine, though, alas, no organic milk. SoloEast, which owns Countryside Cottages, boasts on its web page for the hotel, “We can also teach you to plant or dig potato.” This agricultural instruction was neither offered nor, I can assure you, requested. I have already praised the towel warmers.

At the behest of my driver, Igor, I did purchase the Slavic trinity of smoked meat, alcohol and bread before leaving Kiev. In the evening, I would sit with these, watching the swift and surly Teteriv, listening to the incessant crowing of roosters. For all the discordances of modern travel, from a McDonald’s in the Latin Quarter to “eco resorts” in Haiti, perhaps nothing is quite as surreal as the cozy country comforts of the Countryside Cottages, where you are supposed to forget, as you watch gaudy Russian cable on a flat-screen, the residual wreckage you have come to see.

A destroyed school in the ghost town of Smersk, in an area where the radioactive fallout was greater than in Chernobyl itself. Stefan Boness/Ipon/PanosA destroyed school in the ghost town of Smersk, in an area where the radioactive fallout was greater than in Chernobyl itself. Stefan Boness/Ipon/Panos


Ruin porn is a thing. Trust me. It has made Detroit a destination, as there are apparently legions of tourists who’d rather behold the shell of the Michigan Central Station than guzzle piña coladas at a Sandals resort. The popularity of ruin porn is responsible for listicles like “The 38 Most Haunting Abandoned Places on Earth.” Pripyat is first on this list, which also includes the creepy dagger blade of the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, and Bannerman Castle in the Hudson River Valley.

While I was in Pripyat, the Tate Britain in London was staging a show called Ruin Lust, whose catalog includes a quote from the 18th century French philosopher and encyclopedist Denis Diderot: “The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures.”

Ruin porn has even been the subject of an entire book: Andrew Blackwell’s Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places (2012). The thing is amusing but ultimately too ironic and glib, though Blackwell does get credit for visiting, and dutifully chronicling his exploits at, the Canadian oil sands of Alberta; the refineries of Port Arthur, Texas; and the sewage canals of India. His section on Chernobyl promises to reveal “one weird old tip for repelling gamma rays.”

For some, though, ruin porn is exploitative, a version of poverty tourism: gang tours of Los Angeles, jaunts through Soweto, that sort of thing. On the topic of her city having become a hot spot for urban explorers and gonzo pornographers, one Detroit cultural official has complained that “people here are very sensitive to treating Detroit like it’s a big cemetery and our ruins are beautiful headstones. Those of us who live here don’t like to be seen that way.”

There is nobody in Pripyat to object to your voracious voyeurism. There are, however, some samosels in the Exclusion Zone, elderly settlers who returned to live on the land they had known and worked for decades. There had been about 180 villages here, and some people had survived both Stalin and Hitler. Rogue neutrons weren’t going to keep them away. So they came back, illegally. Nobody bothered to expel them.

Visiting the samosels was uncomfortable in precisely the way that detractors of ruin porn suggest. It was like touring a decrepit zoo where the animals are in obvious distress. I met two villagers, Ded Ivan and Babushka Maria, in front of a homestead in the village of Paryshiv. Many of the surrounding buildings seemed to be little more than wooden slats that accidentally, and only occasionally, formed right angles. Both Ivan and Maria were born in the 1930s, a decade that began with widespread starvation brought upon Ukraine by Stalin. The following decade commenced just as grimly, with the invasion of the Wehrmacht: Ivan remembers being bitten by a German dog that jumped out of a tank.

You are supposed to bring the samosels gifts when you visit on tours such as the one I was taking, but we had forgotten this detail, so I simply handed Maria 200 hrivny ($16.913, as of this writing), which she placed into the pocket of a filthy light blue coat. Ivan was trying to fix a chainsaw, and my driver Igor helped. Meanwhile, Maria brought me over to see the couple’s pig, and I was coaxed into feeding the snarling, smelly animal a rotten apple, which was the single most frightening and disgusting thing I did while visiting Chernobyl.

This was not a museum of Soviet history; this was Turgenev and Dostoyevsky, the Russian peasant in his element, with a sprinkling of radionuclides thrown in for modernity’s sake. “One tragedy after another,” Ivan bemoaned. He tried to explain further, but he spoke with an exceedingly heavy Ukrainian-Belorussian accent, and so we left things on that melancholy note.


While the samosels live in dishearteningly primitive conditions, the power station itself has the attention of the West’s finest engineers. Much of the Exclusion Zone can be allowed to remain in ruin-except, paradoxically, the thing that caused the devastation.

Sarcophagus comes from the Greek σαρκοφάγος, which roughly means “flesh-eating,” a reference to the limestone tomb within which decayed one’s earthly remains. The one that was erected around the reactor in the seven months following the meltdown is a brutally wondrous thing to behold: about 400,000 cubic meters of concrete and 7,300 metric tons of steel, all of it as gray as a November sky. Remarkably, it has held a radioactive crypt whose contents we don’t fully know and never want to see. Most everyone is sure that the sarcophagus can’t hold much longer, having weathered nearly 30 winters so brutal that their predecessors sapped the armies of both Hitler and Napoleon (the summers aren’t exactly clement, either).

In the winter of 2013, a portion of the turbine hall collapsed. With brazen nonchalance straight from the Brezhnev years, a spokeswoman for the plant deemed the event “unpleasant.”

James Mahaffey, a nuclear engineer and the author of the recent bookAtomic Accidents, told me that while the sarcophagus was necessary, it was “all wrong. You don’t just drop concrete on a burning reactor.” Not that there were many options (or any aesthetic considerations) in the wake of the catastrophe, but the concrete sarcophagus erected under hellish conditions in seven months essentially serves as a thermal blanket, keeping warm the radioactive elements inside (some of these have melted into a nuclear lava called corium, the most notorious deposit of which is called the Elephant’s Foot). It has been upgraded, but you can only do so much with an ’81 Lada. Everyone knows the sarcophagus has to go.

Mahaffey is not circumspect about what worries him most: “Russian concrete. Russian this and Russian that.” He lists a variety of dangers: wind blowing through gaps in the reactor, dispersing radionuclides; rain leaching off same. He later wrote, “I left out birds, insects, migrating animals, tourists, changing of the guard, and sporing bacteria.”

“It wouldn’t take much of a seismic event to knock it down,” a civil engineer recently explained to Scientific American. The Federation of American Scientists says, “If the sarcophagus were to collapse due to decay or geologic disturbance, the resulting radioactive dust storm would cause an international catastrophe on par with or worse than the 1986 accident.” Eater of flesh indeed.

Nor is the land surrounding the reactor quite the pristine preserve that some have celebrated in nature-has-triumphed-over-our-thoughtlessness-and-incompetence fashion. Earlier this year, a study by University of South Carolina biologist Timothy Mousseau and others indicated that fallen trees weren’t decomposing because, in Mousseau’s words, “the radiation inhibited microbial decomposition of the leaf litter on the top layer of the soil,” turning the ground into a vast firetrap at whose center sits the aged sarcophagus.

So, at best, Chernobyl is merely dormant. To extend that dormancy for a lot longer, Novarka was contracted in 2007 to build the New Safe Confinement. Though sometimes described as a gigantic hangar, having seen the NSC, I see it as something more elegant, its hopeful parabolic curves recalling the smooth grace of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. In cross section, it is two layers of steel with a 39-foot layer of latticework in between. Its combined shapes and angles are so fluid and simple, you want to put them on a ninth grade geometry quiz.

Currently being built in two pieces, it will rise 30 stories and weigh 30,000 tons-and cost perhaps as much as $2 billion. When completed, the steel contraption will slide along Teflon rails on top of Reactor No. 4 (a process that will take several days). It is believed to be the largest movable structure on Earth. The NSC will be so enormous that, according to the British technology journal The Engineer, it “is one of a handful of buildings that will enclose a volume of air large enough to create its own weather.”

Chernobyl is on the border with Belarus, far from both Crimea and the eastern borderlands where Russian forces have belligerently gathered. And yet the conflict between Kiev and Moscow could have repercussions here. A report on, for example, surmised that Western nations funding the NSC “may be leery of investing amid political instability.” The article has an economist wondering if Russia will “use completion as yet another bullying point to continue their moves on Ukraine.”

This may be a pure linguistic accident, but Novarka sounds like a Slavicized contraction of Noah’s ark. Yes, I am acutely aware that ark and arch might for some seem to be homophones, and not even good ones at that. Yet the more I think about the association, the more sense it makes: This arch, like that ark, is supposed to save us from our own sins and folly. Though, admittedly, the metaphor only goes so far. It would not be water, this time, prevailing upon the earth, but a pestilence invisible and unlikely to ever recede.


Katya, my Virgil through the Exclusion Zone, estimated that 90 percent of the tourists who come to Chernobyl are just “checking a box.” I was checking a box, too, one that had remained empty ever since my father made his strange warnings 28 years ago about the Leningrad sky, which was as overcast that spring as it was every spring for which my memory was available. What was up there, all of a sudden, that I needed to avoid?

“This is a lesson for humanity,” Katya told me as we walked through town. But what lessons, exactly, Ukraine has learned from Chernobyl are not clear. Some people put the death toll in the mere dozens, these being mostly of the first responders who entered the reactor without the benefit of proper protection. Others think that, when all the cancers have run their course, the fatalities will be in the six figures. The World Health Organization says that Chernobyl claimed 4,000 souls. But nobody truly knows.

Nor did Chernobyl put an end to nuclear energy in Ukraine. According to the World Nuclear Association, Ukraine “is heavily dependent on nuclear energy-it has 15 reactors generating about half of its electricity.” And the hostilities with Russia have renewed calls for Ukraine to regain its status as a nuclear superpower. As one Ukrainian politician explained, in what seems to be textbook realpolitik, “If you have nuclear weapons, people don’t invade you.” Yeah, maybe. But yikes.

“Humanity learns mostly by disasters,” Hans Blix told me when I reached him by phone at his home in Stockholm. As head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he was the first Westerner to see the ruined reactor, flying over it in a helicopter about a week after the disaster. “It was a sad sight,” he recalls. The graphite moderator was still aflame; he jokingly likens it, today, to “burning pencils.”

Pliny the Younger, writing of the destruction of Pompeii in A.D. 79 by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, described how “a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood…. We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.”

Yet the most curious aspect of Pliny’s letter to Tacitus is the following: “There were people, too, who added to the real perils by inventing fictitious dangers: some reported that part of Misenum had collapsed or another part was on fire, and though their tales were false they found others to believe them. A gleam of light returned, but we took this to be a warning of the approaching flames rather than daylight.” It is almost as if Pliny is offering a rebuke against excessive despair at the moment that Pompeii was facing certain doom. It’s hope against hope.

Chernobyl is a similar amalgam of fears real and imagined, of Chernobyl Diaries alarmism combined with sobering tales about the limits of human power. You are reminded of the latter by a statue of Prometheus that today stands at the power station. Originally, that statue stood in front of the movie theater in Pripyat, which was also called Prometheus, the metallic lettering (Прометей) still affixed to the facade, a three-syllable battalion weary and weathered by battle.

Prometheus! It’s like they knew.