THE HUMAN SPECIES IS, in a word, an environmental abnormality. It is possible that intelligence in the wrong kind of species was foreordained to be a fatal combination for the biosphere. Perhaps a law of evolution is that intelligence usually extinguishes itself.
This admittedly dour scenario is based on what can be termed the juggernaut theory of human nature, which holds that people are programmed by their genetic heritage to be so selfish, that a sense of global responsibility will come too late.
Individuals place themselves first, family second, tribe third and the rest of the world a distant fourth. Their genes also predispose them to plan ahead for one or two generations at most. They fret over the petty problems and conflicts of their daily lives and respond swiftly and often ferociously to slight challenges to their status and tribal security.
But oddly, as psychologists have discovered, people also tend to underestimate both the likelihood and impact of such natural disasters as major earthquakes and great storms.
The reason for this myopic fog, evolutionary biologists contend, is that it was actually advantageous during all but the last few millennia of the two million years of existence of the genus Homo.
The brain evolved into its present form during this long stretch of evolutionary time, during which people existed in small, preliterate hunter-gatherer bands. Life was precarious and short. A premium was placed on close attention to the near future and early reproduction, and little else.
In a world that produces more food than ever before, far too many people will still go to bed hungry tonight.
"Food security—hunger—is a huge problem," said Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute. "Almost a billion people are suffering from undernourishment. They simply don't have enough to eat.
"And more than two billion people are suffering from nutritional deficiencies, the lack of things like iron, zinc, and vitamin A. This 'hidden hunger' can cause great damage to people's health and to their productive lives because economic growth really suffers with undernourishment," said Fan.
When the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) will be held in Brazil from June 20 to 22, Fan stressed, "poor people's access to food has to be at the center of the discussion."
Of course, the main sources of human food include farms and fisheries. But both of these sources are being exploited unsustainably.
Giant factory farms or “megafarms” are somewhat new to Asia, but rising meat and dairy product consumption in the region, coupled with rapid economic and industrial development, is changing the face of diet and animal agriculture in the East.
During harvest last year, banana farmers in Jordan and Mozambique made a chilling discovery. Their plants were no longer bearing the soft, creamy fruits they'd been growing for decades. When they cut open the roots of their banana plants, they saw something that looked like this: Scientists first discovered the fungus that is turning banana...
SINGAPORE — Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources is going beyond just monitoring the haze, by taking action against those responsible for the fires, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, in an interview with Channel NewsAsia. His ministry plans to get tough on transboundary haze by taking to task, companies which contribute to the haze. Planned measures include the tabling of an Act to hold directors of such companies accountable for the damage caused and the health impact on millions of people in the region. “Early next year, I’ll be going to Parliament to introduce a new Act specifically targeting trans-boundary haze,” said Dr Balakrishnan. “We will make it a criminal offence. We will hold the companies as well as directors liable for the damage they cause to us, as well as the deleterious health impact on our population. We’re about to finalise the drafting, I will present it to the public. We will take the views of the public, adjust it if necessary. I hope to pass this bill sometime within the first half of next year. “Again, the intention is to send a signal to companies. We are going to hold them accountable and we know who is responsible for causing these problems to literally millions of Singaporeans and Indonesians.” Dr Balakrishnan said his ministry will also collaborate with non-government organisations to highlight the problem within the local and international sphere. He said the key objective is to ultimately create an awareness among consumers of palm oil, to understand which companies are producing palm oil sustainably and responsibly, and which ones are doing so through indiscriminate burning. Dr Balakrishnan also touched on the topic of the rising number of dengue cases, which has exceeded 22,000 cases by yesterday (Dec 27), with seven reported deaths. Dr Balakrishnan said the NEA inspects about 100 construction sites a week, and finds breeding occurring in between eight and 10 per cent of them. He said the NEA has been issuing more stop-work orders to construction companies. The ministry is also considering raising penalties for construction sites found to have recurring breeding of mosquitoes. “Whilst I would say It’s too early to say that the epidemic is over, I think the worst is over,” said Dr Balakrishnan. “We are now down to about 350 cases ... thereabouts. I think the number will stay around there.” “We will continue to pour in more resources, continue to do more inspections, continue to mobilise Singaporeans and gradually bring the number down,” he added. “But this remains an ever-present threat to us. Our immunity as a whole is low and this virus has very high epidemic potential.” The year 2013 has also been significant on the climate change front, with intense rainfall over short periods of time continuing to cause flash floods in many areas, and experts have warned of more such weather patterns in the future. Dr Balakrishnan said a review of the Sustainable Singapore blueprint will begin in 2014, and will involve public consultation. The blueprint maps out the country’s strategy for economic growth in an environmentally-sustainable way. The review will also incorporate NEA’s Volunteer Corp Scheme, where members of the public are trained and issued with warrant cards to book and issue littering summonses to offenders on the spot. Dr Balakrishnan said: “I want this to go through the proper process of public consultation. What type of people should be eligible to have a warrant card, what kind of training is necessary? How should they be deployed, where should they be deployed? Instead of working with individuals, work with NGOs, work with organised groups. The real objective is not enforcement. It’s public ownership and peer pressure.” CHANNEL NEWSASIA
One advantage of using genetic engineering to help crops adapt to these sudden changes is that new varieties can be created quickly. Creating a potato variety through conventional breeding, for example, takes at least 15 years; producing a genetically modified one takes less than six months. Genetic modification also allows plant breeders to make more precise changes and draw from a far greater variety of genes, gleaned from the plants’ wild relatives or from different types of organisms. Plant scientists are careful to note that no magical gene can be inserted into a crop to make it drought tolerant or to increase its yield—even resistance to a disease typically requires multiple genetic changes. But many of them say genetic engineering is a versatile and essential technique.
“It’s an overwhelmingly logical thing to do,” says Jonathan Jones, a scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in the U.K. and one of the world’s leading experts on plant diseases. The upcoming pressures on agricultural production, he says, “[are] real and will affect millions of people in poor countries.” He adds that it would be “perverse to spurn using genetic modification as a tool.”
It’s a view that is widely shared by those responsible for developing tomorrow’s crop varieties. At the current level of agricultural production, there’s enough food to feed the world, says Eduardo Blumwald, a plant scientist at the University of California, Davis. But “when the population reaches nine billion?” he says. “No way, José.”
The city of Hong Kong is like the mythical Janus, the god who supposedly guarded ancient Roman doors: it has two faces. On the one hand, you have the rich, cosmopolitan city which never sleeps, and on the other hand the metropolis of the poor, with its old, lousy buildings. The two worlds live side by side, hugging each other in a maze of skyscrapers and crappy edifices
To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image. Astronomy taught us that our earth isn't the center of the universe but merely one of billions of heavenly bodies. From biology we learned that we weren't specially created by God but evolved along with millions of other species. Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.
At first, the evidence against this revisionist interpretation will strike twentieth century Americans as irrefutable. We're better off in almost every respect than people of the Middle Ages, who in turn had it easier than cavemen, who in turn were better off than apes. Just count our advantages. We enjoy the most abundant and varied foods, the best tools and material goods, some of the longest and healthiest lives, in history. Most of us are safe from starvation and predators. We get our energy from oil and machines, not from our sweat. What neo-Luddite among us would trade his life for that of a medieval peasant, a caveman, or an ape?
For most of our history we supported ourselves by hunting and
gathering: we hunted wild animals and foraged for wild plants. It's a life that philosophers have traditionally regarded as nasty, brutish, and short. Since no food is grown and little is stored, there is (in this view) no respite from the struggle that starts anew each day to find wild foods and avoid starving. Our escape from this misery was facilitated only 10,000 years ago, when in different parts of the world people began to domesticate plants and animals. The agricultural revolution spread until today it's nearly universal and few tribes of hunter-gatherers survive.
From the progressivist perspective on which I was brought up, to ask "Why did almost all our hunter-gatherer ancestors adopt agriculture?" is silly. Of course they adopted it because agriculture is an efficient way to get more food for less work. Planted crops yield far more tons per acre than roots and berries. Just imagine a band of savages, exhausted from searching for nuts or chasing wild animals, suddenly grazing for the first time at a fruit-laden orchard or a pasture full of sheep. How many milliseconds do you think it would take them to appreciate the advantages of agriculture?
Pulp Green Tech Holding, an R&D-focused company that owns Thai Gorilla Pulp Ltd., announced this week that it has successfully achieved a high-grade paper pulp made from empty palm fruit bunches, which are most often treated as waste material from the palm oil extraction process. The company estimates that roughly 95 percent, or 300 million tons, of this raw material is currently discarded per year.
fter Michael Mann set out to direct Collateral, the story’s setting moved from New York to Los Angeles. This decision was in part motivated by the unique visual presence of the city — especially the way it looked at night. Mann shot a majority of the film in HD (this was 2004), feeling the format better captured the city’s night lighting. Even the film’s protagonist taxi needed a custom coat to pick up different sheens depending on the type of artificial lighting the cab passed beneath. That city, at least as it appears in Collateral and countless other films, will never be the same again. L.A. has made a vast change-over to LED street lights, with New York City not far behind. Read on for why Hollywood will never look the same again — on film or otherwise.
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