May 23, 2013 12:26 pm
Next month, China will begin its first carbon-trading pilot program in Shenzhen, a major Chinese city just north of Hong Kong, the Guardian reports. The program will begin modestly, targeting only certain Shenzhen companies, but will soon expand to other sectors and cities. Environmentalists hope these initial trials will help the country determine how to best go about setting caps on emissions, the Guardian writes.
China ranks as the world’s number one carbon dioxide emitter, thanks in part to the massive amounts of coal the country burns. China currently builds a new coal-fired power plant at a rate of about one every week to ten days. The country’s coal burning levels are nearly on par with the rest of the world combined.
Politicians around the world have focused on carbon trading as the market-based strategy of choice for regulating greenhouse gas emissions. HowStuffWorks explains the basic concept:
Cap-and-trade schemes are the most popular way to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) and other emissions. The scheme’s governing body begins by setting a cap on allowable emissions. It then distributes or auctions off emissions allowances that total the cap. Member firms that do not have enough allowances to cover their emissions must either make reductions or buy another firm’s spare credits. Members with extra allowances can sell them or bank them for future use. Cap-and-trade schemes can be either mandatory or voluntary.
But in the European Union, this system has not worked so well. The Royal Society of Chemistry explains the problem:
In theory, the cost of buying the allowances, either directly from other companies or on the open market, is supposed to provide financial incentives for companies to invest in carbon reducing technology or shift to less carbon intensive energy sources. But after reaching a peak of nearly €30 (£25) per tonne in the summer of 2008, prices have steadily fallen. By January they had crashed to under €5, providing little, if any, financial incentive for companies to reduce emissions.
This initial effort in China will extent to just 638 companies, the Guardian reports, though those businesses are responsible for 68 percent of Shenzhen’s total greenhouse gas emissions. While any efforts China undertakes to reduce its emissions will help ward off global climate change and reduce greenhouse gas build up in the planet’s atmosphere, China’s leaders say the decision primarily stems from it’s escalating in-country problems with air pollution, the Guardian reports.
If things go well, the scheme will further incorporate transportation, manufacturing and construction companies as well. China plans to enroll seven cities in the experiment by 2014. By 2020, China hopes to have implemented a nation-wide carbon control program—just in time for the country’s estimated emissions peak in 2025.
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May 21, 2013 4:44 pm
On Monday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said she wasn’t going to worry about ridding Tumblr of porn. “It’s just the nature of user-generated content,” she said.
In other words: Welcome to the Internet, there will be porn.
And Mayer is right. The numbers about just how much of the Internet is dedicated to porn are wildly variable, but they’re there. Some estimates put porn at 30 percent of all Internet traffic. Other places claim the percentage is far higher. Forbes put the question to neuroscientist Ogi Ogas, who studies our consumption of all things wicked, and heard that, in 2010, about 4 percent of websites were dedicated to porn and, between July 2009 to July 2010, about 13 percent of web searches were for some sort of erotica.
Now, some of that comes from the changing demographics of who uses the Internet, says Ogas. When the web was first formed, it was largely populated by dudes. “I think in 1999 that 4 or 5 of the top 10 searches on the Web were for porn,” he told Forbes. But now the uses and users of the Internet have increased dramatically. And while Internet users are still looking for porn, it’s not the only thing or even the most common thing they’re after.
But it is there. It’s there, and it’s easy to find. Which is why parents and lawmakers are still talking about it. In the UK, David Cameron announced that all porn sites would be blocked from public places, striving to create “good, clean WiFi.” Mirror News writes that the Prime Minister “stressed the importance of parents having confidence in public internet systems and that their children ‘are not going to see things they shouldn’t’.” And the UK isn’t the only place to talk about cracking down on porn. In Iceland, they’ve proposed to ban all online pornography—a curious turn for a generally liberal country.
Now, actually carrying these bans out is hard. You can’t just flip a switch and change the content of the Internet. The Economist explains why Iceland’s ban in particular would be hard, but the reasons stand for most porn bans:
Banning online pornography would be tricky. The definition of violent or degrading pornography would have to be clearly enshrined in law. Iceland would then have to police the internet, a difficult thing to do. When Denmark and Australia introduced online blacklists in an effort to block porn sites, some innocuous websites crept on to the lists by mistake.
Basically, actually rooting out which sites are porn and which aren’t isn’t as easy as it might sound. And, ban or no ban, porn will always be on the Internet for those who choose to seek it out.
This is why some places are arguing that rather than ban or regulate or stamp out porn, children and adults should simply be educated on the pros and cons of pornography. In the UK, where they want to ban porn from public wifi, 83 percent of parents felt that students should learn about pornography in sex education classes. In the United States, one class at Pasadena College takes porn head on. The course, Navigating Pornography, has students watch and discuss porn, and tries to debunk the myth that people should learn about sexuality through porn. “Students today live in a porn-saturated culture and very rarely get a chance to learn about it in a safe, non-judgmental, intellectually thoughtful way,” professor Hugo Schwyzer told the Huffington Post.
Buzzfeed visited Schwyzer’s class to see just what a course in porn might be like:
But in many places, where even regular sex education is hard to come by, the chances that students will learn about porn are slim to none. The National Children’s Bureau says that teaching about porn is crucial to giving children a well-rounded education about sex and relationships. Lucy Emmerson, Co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum for the NCB, says that teachers are too scared to mention porn in class. “Given the ease with which children are able to access explicit sexual content on the Internet, it is vital that teachers can respond to this reality appropriately,” she says. “Whilst in some cases children find this material by accident, there are instances when they come across pornography whilst looking for answers to sex education questions; it is therefore wholly appropriate that pornography and the issues it reveals are addressed in school SRE.”
Basically, the reality is that ban or not, young people are going to encounter pornography on the Internet. Whether or not they’re ready for it seems to be up to their parents and teachers.
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May 14, 2013 1:17 pm
The U.S. military has a non-lethal toy straight out of dystopian science fiction. It is, literally, a pain gun. Known as “Active Denial Technology,” the pain gun shoots extremely high frequency microwaves from a truck hundreds of meters away. When these waves hit your skin, you feel like you’re being cooked alive. Last year, Wired‘s Spencer Ackerman volunteered to get shot by the non-lethal weapon:
When the signal goes out over radio to shoot me, there’s no warning — no flash, no smell, no sound, no round. Suddenly my chest and neck feel like they’ve been exposed to a blast furnace, with a sting thrown in for good measure. I’m getting blasted with 12 joules of energy per square centimeter, in a fairly concentrated blast diameter. I last maybe two seconds of curiosity before my body takes the controls and yanks me out of the way of the beam.
Here’s what it looks like to get shot, as experienced by Ackerman:
The Active Denial pain ray is big and scary, sure. But it’s also mounted on a huge expensive truck, and thus, unlike tasers or rubber bullets, is not a thing you’ll likely see in real life right now. But that may soon change. According to New Scientist, Raytheon, the defense contractor behind the pain gun, is working on a portable version:
Raytheon is now building smaller versions for law enforcement or commercial maritime use – designed to be placed inside buildings, such as prisons, or mounted on ships for defence against, say, pirates. And soon there could be handheld versions of the pain ray. Raytheon has developed small experimental prototypes, one of which is about the size of a heavy rifle and is intended for police use.
As a non-lethal weapon, the pain ray is actually incredibly effective. The weapon causes a burning sensation so strong that it triggers “reflexive ‘repel’ reactions.” People just want to get out of the way. And, from the testing done so far, the pain gun has a low chance of doing any real damage. So far, 11,000 people have been shot, and only eight of them got burned. But these were all under proper testing conditions, not out in the field in the middle of a riot.
But as a non-lethal weapon, the pain gun has something rubber bullets and tasers and tear gas do not: it is invisible—people being shot by it will likely have absolutely zero idea what is going on, and in most cases the gun leaves no physical wounds.
This distinction, says New Scientist, got a plan to use the portable version of the device in a California prison shut down.
On the eve of going live, the trial was cancelled. It was not over health concerns, explains Chris Tillery of the NIJ’s Office of Science and Technology… The test was shut down, he says, because of an unexpected outcry in the media and elsewhere about the potential for abuse of the technology.
And this goes to the heart of the moral dilemma raised by a technology that can induce pain invisibly. It may be medically safe if used properly, but in the wrong hands, it could also be a tool of oppression and torture.
For now, says New Scientist, the potential to use the weapon in law enforcement is under review by the National Institute of Justice.
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May 14, 2013 11:34 am
It helps to have hard evidence when making a case against criminals. For those who committed crimes against humanity, that evidence often takes the form of mass graves. But locating hundreds or even thousands of buried bodies can be more difficult than it sounds. A team of researchers from the UK and Colombia hope to ease that search process by developing new means of sniffing out sites of atrocities.
In a poster abstract presented at the Meeting of the Americas in Mexico, the authors write:
Nowadays, there are thousands of missing people around the world that could have been tortured and killed and buried in clandestine graves. This is a huge problem for their families and governments that are responsible to warranty the human rights for everybody. These people need to be found and the related crime cases need to be resolved.
Currently, the science of detecting mass graves is hit or miss. Local governments and organizations try different methods of detecting clandestine burial sites, and some work better than others depending upon the circumstances. Developing a standard, refined technique for both locating the graves and determining factor such as the time of death, the researchers think, will expedite the process of convicting murderers for their crimes.
In the UK, researchers pursued this goal by burying pigs and then monitoring soil gases, fluids and other changes over time as the carcasses decomposed underground. Those results are already being applied throughout Europe. But bodies break down differently in different climates, and for this new project, researchers will bury pigs in eight different mass grave simulation sites throughout Colombia. Each of the site will represent a different climate, soil type and rainfall pattern. They plan to use grond penetrating radar, electrical resistivity, conductivity, magnetometry and other measures to characterize the grave sites over 18 months.
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May 2, 2013 3:34 pm
In Mozambique, it seems to be game over for rhinos. A wildlife warden in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier park—the only place where rhinos were still surviving in the southern African country—told AP that the last of the animals have been killed by poachers.
Elephants also could become extinct in Mozambique soon, the warden, Antonio Abacar, warns. He says game rangers have been aiding poachers, and 30 of the park’s 100 rangers will appear in court soon. “We caught some of them red-handed while directing poachers to a rhino area,” Abacar says.
In Asia, the hacked-off horns can fetch a price equivalent to more than their weight in gold. Traditional Chinese medicine holds that the ground horns have curative properties. (Science holds that they do not.) In China and Vietnam, the horns are also used as decorations or as aphrodisiacs.
Mozambique’s rhinos have been living on the edge of extinction for more than a century, when big game hunters first arrived and decimated populations. Conservationists there have painstakingly built the population up over the last few years, but poachers—who often have significantly more funding, manpower and resources than wildlife wardens—seem to have finally stamped out the country’s rhinos for good. Mozambique’s conservation director remains hopeful that a few stray rhinos may still exist, however.
For many wildlife wardens, the lure of money and the lack of legal deterrents, often proves too much to resist. AP describes the typical case:
A game ranger arrested for helping poachers in Mozambique’s northern Niassa Game Reserve said on Mozambican Television TVM last week that he was paid about $80 to direct poachers to areas with elephants and rhinos. Game rangers are paid between $64 and $96 a month, and though the guilty ones will lose their jobs, the courts serve as little deterrent to the poachers: Killing wildlife and trading in illegal rhino horn and elephant tusks are only misdemeanors in Mozambique.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Mozambique’s government is still working on legislation first drafted in 2009 which would impose mandatory prison sentences for people caught shooting wildlife.
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