usa – “let’s abandon leadership, go backwards”

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A quick summary of responses to Trump abandoning the Paris Climate Agreement.

Corporate Support for the Paris Climate Agreement

A few companies that support the Paris accords

Ford, GM, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Walmart, Amazon, ExxonMobile, and ConocoPhillips.

Some corporations and CEOs that not only support the Paris agreement but publicly disagree with Trump’s decision

Jeff Immelt, CEO GE, Ben van Beurden, CEO Royal Dutch Shell, David MacLennan, CEO Cargill, Jamie Dimon, CEO JPMorgan Chase, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO Goldman Sachs, Tim Cook, CEO Apple, Mark Zuckerberg CEO Facebook, Mark Benioff, CEO Salesforce, Sundar Pichai, GEO Google, Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX – Resigned from White House business advisory council in protest, Bob Iger, Walt Disney – Resigned from White House business advisory council in protest

HP, DuPont, Nike, UnileverAdobe, Intel, Levi, Mars – all signed a letter urging Trump to stay with the Paris agreement

Coal companies that asked Trump to stay with Paris agreement
Cloud Peak Energy and Peabody Energy

Calculate how much of the U.S. economy is represented in the list above. It’s safe to say that these are people who make pragmatic decisions.

Economic Impact of Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement

Fastest growing occupations: #1 is wind turbine technician, #29 solar photovoltaic installers. Why are we not prioritizing clean energy jobs instead of fossil fuels?

“1.1 million Americans work in electric-power generation through traditional fossil fuels, but renewables follow closely with 880,000 employees.” And guess which one is growing? There are more jobs in solar power than in the coal industry.

“The decision means the U.S. will miss out on some the $1.4 trillion global business opportunity that the global low-carbon economy represents.”

Despite this, Trump has decided to let China and Europe take the lead in clean energy development and leave the U.S. behind in a growing industry.

Trump Continues to Spew Lies on the Topic (no surprise)

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/donald-trump-climate-accord-fact-check

Meanwhile in the Reality-Based Universe

Every year it gets harder for denialists to find cover. You have to believe that every major climate science organization across the globe, and almost all climate scientists worldwide, are in error or engaged in a huge conspiracy to cover up the truth. There is no factual support for denialism, just an occasional op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from someone outside the field, or posts by some energy industry funded propaganda outfit. That’s pretty thin gruel. 

Oh, and you must believe that, along with U.S. corporations and science community, the 197 signing governments and 147 ratifiers of the Paris Climate Agreement are all deluded, too. Syria didn’t sign (in the middle of a war) and Nicaragua (thought it was too weak) and now the U.S. (Trump).

Incidental info: The oceans are warming, we hit temperature records each year, wildlife is moving north, etc. etc.   https://climate.nasa.gov/  

It’s encouraging that individual companies, states, and cities in the U.S. are vowing to continue with climate change mitigation. Let’s act like there’s a civilization on earth. Let’s look ahead and plan.

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super brain is out to get you

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I recently read yet another article about the alleged threat posed by artificial intelligence. I don’t buy it; at least as this story is usually framed. When someone says that the danger lies in self-aware, volitional computer intelligence, I think they are projecting science fiction plots onto reality. When they talk about a runaway recursive loop of smarter-than-human computers creating even smarter computers, and so on unto “singularity,” they are pretending that real life resembles a really cool novel they once read.

When do we get there and where is “there”?

I think it’s so very unlikely and/or so far off, that it would be a wasted effort to worry about it, and even worse to take action on it when there are so many actual serious problems to deal with. Why do I think that? Point me to an example of a self-aware, volitional computer to justify the concern. Show me any non-biological intelligence. As far as I’m aware, examples offered as even the beginnings of this are stretching the definitions of “intelligence” and “self-awareness” to the breaking point.

There is no clear and obvious path from where we are now to a human-like artificial intelligence. People have been working on AI for decades and are no closer. I think it’s possible in principle, and we may get there, but where are the signs that we’re even close? To take one crude example, do you think that something will just “wake up,” given enough processing power? Are there even hints of this happening? Look at the Blue Brain Project, it’s a great thing, but I don’t think anyone involved would say they are even remotely near such an achievement.

Smarter than what?

I think we have another problem, which is even knowing what it means to have a computer that is smarter than humans. Already there are computers that perform calculations much faster than people. Is that it? Most people would say no. They mean a computer that is “super-intelligent,”  as far beyond us as we are beyond a microbe. Again, people tend to mean self-aware machines with desires of their own, but super, and incomprehensible. I think we’re assigning magic to consciousness and intelligence. Just scale up the “smartness” 10 or 100-fold and magic happens. The machines will save us. No, they’ll destroy us. No, they’ll put us all in a simulation. No, we’re already in one.

I’ve heard some alarmists suggest that if it happens just once – if a smarter-than-human intelligence develops — we’re in trouble. Then it’s too late. The genie is  out of the bottle. How does it get the better of us? Maybe it’s so smart that it uses its super-smart AI silver tongue to talk us into not unplugging it. Or maybe it replicates itself all over the internet, and somehow (magic) gains control of our physical environment and eradicates us. It makes smarter copies of itself, and the smarter it gets, the more magic happens.

Get real

I think a genuine threat is humans giving increasing responsibilities to machines without developing sufficient safeguards. An example would be a self-driving car that can’t handle certain tricky situations on the road. That’s a danger. A malfunctioning gun-wielding military robot that selects its own targets – that’s a danger.  A runaway super-smart AI? Not so much. It’s a gross misuse of resources to spend money combatting evil machines. We have bigger fish to fry like poverty, disease, war, and climate change.

jwst

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I’m feeling anxious about it already and it isn’t slated to happen until October 2018. I’m talking about the launch of the long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Huge amounts of time and energy (and money) have been funneled into this telescope. It’s a nail-biter unlike other launches because you can’t just turn around and redo this if it fails.

If successful, this telescope will enable some serious science. I read a quote from one astronomer who said that with the JWST, in one day we’ll learn more than everything we currently know about the first galaxies in the universe. It’s designed for viewing the first luminous objects after the Big Bang, and learning how they developed.

Interestingly, another one of its tasks is to directly observe and photograph planets around other stars. Spectroscopy might tell us something about an exoplanet’s weather, color, and maybe even help identify whether there is vegetation.

A few other amazing things I didn’t know:

  • Whereas the Hubble Telescope sits within somewhat easy reach over the earth (550 km up), the JWST will be 1.5 million km away – out at an Earth-Sun Lagrange point. That’s outside the Earth’s orbit but in a gravitationally stable point. No repair missions are possible.
  • One reason it has to be this far away is that an infrared telescope like this needs to be cold. This one must be kept at an incredible -233 C, which is 50 degrees above absolute zero. At the Lagrange point, the JWST will keep one side permanently facing the Earth and Sun. That side has a sunshield “the size of a small tennis court.” It blocks light and heat from the warm side of the spacecraft so the telescope on the cold side can make its observations without interference from the infrared radiation.
  • The main mirror is 6.5 meters in diameter, more than twice as large as the Hubble. It’s made of 18 segments that will unfold after launch.

You see why I’m already worried? There are so many bits and pieces that have to go right, not to mention the launch itself. If it all goes as planned, this will be stupendous. Of course, the Mars rover missions were incredibly complex and they worked, so maybe …

Go to NASA for the whole story. 

8518326751_0757ca9b9a_bNASA.   Full scale model with it’s five-layer sun shield

 

 

ask the universe

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The universe – an incomprehensibly large expanse strewn with billions of galaxies, each full of billions of stars. And it’s expanding. Then toss in dark energy and dark matter, even though no one currently knows what that means. Add gravity and stir. 

Maybe, like me, you have heard someone ask the universe for help. They’ll say something like, “I want to live in a tropical paradise, so I’ll put the intention out there and see if the universe supports me.” However, I’m pretty sure that the actual universe doesn’t care if you live or die, let alone where you live. Go ahead, just ask it if it cares. 

Yet some people believe that an invisible force underlying all reality will “support” them if their wish is in cosmic alignment with … universe energy! Or something vague like that. Years ago, I held a similar belief – everything is made of consciousness, so you can do anything. It’s kind of like “the secret,” which says that if you really want something you’ll get it. After all, you create reality, so the world will rearrange itself according to your desires. 

In other words, it’s magic. Some people will make ridiculous claims that quantum physics somehow supports this belief in magic. It doesn’t. Go ahead, ask a quantum physicist at the nearest university physics department. I’ll wait. 

These beliefs are not different than the old “praying for what you want” gambit. If your prayer (intention) comes true, the lord (universe) has granted your desire, and if it doesn’t come true, it wasn’t just part of the deity’s plan (energies not in alignment). 

Ask the universe to send you a bag of dog chow. Tell the universe you want to meet the love of your life. Ask it to resurrect a dead tulip. Best of all, ask it for something really vague, such as to make everything work out according a plan you can’t know about. That’s the universe’s specialty.

And if the actions of the universe are indistinguishable from random chance, well, maybe that’s how it prefers to operate.

universe

mutated and organic

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warning
Just when you thought it was safe to eat all-natural, organic, everything-free food … when you thought it was okay to buy crops grown in sunny fields and harvested by laughing, healthy family farmers wearing all-cotton overalls … this terrible knowledge is revealed:

Thousands of foods we all eat today were bred from crop varieties that were produced using atomic radiation. Both radiation and toxic chemicals are and have been used to mutate plants in order to create new varieties. It’s been going on since the 1940s. Your favorite organic food may come from a variety produced this way.

Needless to say, the gamma rays used to produce an ancestor of the Ruby Red grapefruit have absolutely no effect on you, the eater. It would be crazy to think otherwise. You are simply eating a variety of produce that was generated that way.

But logic doesn’t enter into this. The same people who think that GMO food is going to hurt them might be terrified. (Never mind that GMOs are rigorously tested, highly regulated, and arguably safer than cross-bred plants.) People may soon demand labeling of all food that comes from a variety generated by toxic chemicals or radiation. They may only buy vegetables developed by cross-breeding or selective breeding and nothing more modern than that.

What the heck, let’s go back to the days before our fruits and vegetables were modified by breeding. They probably looked like this. Or better yet, let’s only eat items that have fallen off a tree or a bush in a forest. Or maybe things that have naturally washed ashore on a beach, like an old jellyfish, warmed by the sun. Delectable! Aged jellyfish just melt in your mouth.

Useful Mutants
Crop Seed Mutation Breeding Increasing
Delicious Mutant Foods

fine-tuned for death

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I’d like to propose that the universe we live is “designed” to make life unlikely. It’s a “misanthropic principle” that becomes clear when you look around.

  1. Let’s start with the obvious – 99.999% of everything is empty. It’s mostly a vacuum out there; where life as we know it can’t exist. It’s just dead, sterile space suffused with deadly cosmic radiation.
  2. An unbelievably small part of the universe consists of matter, and 80% of that is dark matter. Let’s look at that tiny, tiny fraction of the universe that consists of what we call ordinary matter. A lot of it is lonely hydrogen atoms, and where the mass clumps together you’ve got gas clouds and radiation-spewing nuclear fusion fire. Then there are burned or frozen chunks of rock. This is a place designed for the non-living.
  3. Further proof of the “death fine-tuning” is that only tiniest fraction of a fraction of a fraction of those rock chunks might be temporarily amenable to life. Most of that life, which is now looking accidental, is probably microbes. You could say the universe slips up once in a while, and in the equivalent of a single dust mote in the Grand Canyon, some microbial life bubbles up, but otherwise non-life reigns supreme.
  4. Now look at the vanishingly small fraction of those rock chunks that could harbor larger, more complicated life. Take earth, for example. In fact, right now that’s our only example. During the finite period of time that complex life can exist here, the planet is subject to doomsday asteroid strikes, horrendous magma-vomiting volcanism, and other catastrophes that beat down life from time to time. It’s not a place that favors the living.
  5. Let’s look at the period between these major disruptions when life thrives for a while. Does the universe care if most creatures with developed nervous systems die painful deaths? No. Animals are torn apart and eaten by other ones, or they starve, or are abandoned or diseased. If humans are somehow different and special (because they write blogs and go to the moon), then the universe is even crueler to them because they can foresee their own helpless doom. They know that they are plagued by deformities, random accidents, disease, and natural disasters.

As you can see, the universe is fine-tuned to treat life as rare and inconsequential. Next post: the bad news.

Okay, I’m purposely stretching this to make a point.I actually feel wonder and delight in the world around us, both living and non-living. It’s fantastic and mysterious and I feel fortunate to be here. I’m just not impressed with arguments that say our universe is perfectly calibrated to create beings like us. You could make a good argument for the opposite.

coma-cluster-galaxies-x-ray