Everybody’s Fightin’ about that Spoonful

[ The Note for October 2014 ]

For most of the history of our species, we were hunter-gatherers. We could not store large stocks of resources. Social groups were small, defined by the range individuals within that small group were able to cover, in search of sustenance. We formed microcultures that left little in the way of permanent record. Knowledge expanded slowly. Scarcity remained the rule for human societies, even as agriculture took over, and cities grew, and urban civilization spread across the world. The few that were able to control the structures that establish and reinforce what we call society have been able to enjoy abundance, without allowing everyone else into that enjoyment. Perpetual scarcity, then, appeared to be an organizing principle, though it was more an illusion than a fact of life on Earth.

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Human Value at the World Bank Civil Society Forum

It rained, and the world gathered, and there were intensely held views on how far what we were doing took us toward the pervasive repair the world is crying out for. But it would be inappropriate to say anything about that before noting that it was a true privilege to be one of the people with the opportunity to speak for those who could not, who were not present, or who have not so far been considered.

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Efficacy, measurement, evidence, improvement, are keywords in circulation at the World Bank, during a week of meetings hosted by civil society organizations. People want these financial institutions of global reach to show their worth, to respond to criticism and to give evidence of responsiveness. Some question why we are here, but the fact that there is hope, and opportunity, is palpable, and has to be recognized as being of historic value.

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Climate, Energy & Ethics Roundtable (video + recap)

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we held the first of our series of Climate Talks, to explore with more depth and more detail some of the intricacies of the climate crisis, including social, philosophical and political, dynamics, and the way we frame our perception of global-scale phenomena. It was a construtive conversation, from four points of view, each of which was able to benefit from a kinship of interest, so that whether we were discussion environmental justice, political solidarity, economics and collaborative politics or Villanova’s ongoing commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, there were ways to deepen and broaden our understanding of each facet of the problem from each of the different perspectives.

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Obama Speech in Ghana Praises Good Governance, Calls for Community Outreach

Pres. Barack Obama praised African community values and called Africans to transcend conflict and promote government from the ground up and peaceful transfers of power, democratic values and international cooperation, in his first presidential visit to subsaharan Africa. Addressing Ghana’s parliament in Accra, Obama outlined US policy toward Africa and said endemic conflict was holding back African development.

The US president said he had called for $63 billion in US spending for health initiatives across the continent, including money to fight malaria, polio, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Disease and conflict have devastated the population of Africa, reducing life-expectancy in many countries to under 40 years. Of the 27 nations with life-expectancy under 50 years, 26 of them are in Africa (Afghanistan is the other). Life-expectancy in Ghana is just under 60, a fact which underscores the positive quality-of-life gains that can emerge from peace and rule of law.

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Sustainable Use of the Oceans: Overfishing + Pollution ‘Dead Zones’ Depleting Ocean Life (discussion)

Overfishing has depleted fish-stocks the world over. Subsidies and lack of enforcement of sustainability measures drive the fishing industry to deplete the very stocks on which its existence depends, while climate interference and global contamination are leaving oceans so hypoxic (oxygen deprived) they cannot support marine life. At least 405 such ‘dead zones’ have been identified across the globe.

According to a NASA report, hypoxia is so extreme in some areas, that total anoxia (zero oxygen availability) can be found, allowing for no animal life to exist. In the Mississippi River delta, feeding into the Gulf of Mexico, it is thought that agricultural waste is creating a glut of nutrients for phytoplankton, which leaves excess organic matter for bottom-dwelling bacteria to feed on.

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Raindrops New Source of Low-Intensity Clean Energy

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A new study has shown that raindrops can be used to produce electricity. The key is the mechanical energy of the raindrops, meaning the energy contained in their motion and in the way that force is diffused when striking a given type of surface. In this case the surface is PVDF (polyvinylidene difluoride) plastic, which is able to release a charge when temporarily “deformed” by mechanical activity, such as being struck by a moving object.

A sheet of PVDF just 25 micrometers thick (1,000 = 1 milimeter) receives the impact of raindrops, and the effect is the release of energy, which can be harvested and turned into electricity. Romain Guigon, from the research institute CEA Leti-Minatec in Grenoble, France, says the research shows that “even in the most unfavorable conditions, the mechanical energy of the raindrops… is high enough to power low-consumption devices”, but the study does not specify how well circuitry retains a minimum charge sufficient for regular functioning.

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