#75: Go web! Fly! Up, up, and away web! Shazaam!

Coming to you from the world's slowest wifi 30,000 feet above the U.S. of A.!

We might be off the next two weeks, or one of the next two weeks, or not at all, thanks to the holidays, but honestly I haven't decided yet. Kind of depends on how insane my kids are being, and/or whether the world is (more) on fire. Those two things may be related.

On to the news!

"With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility*", said Uncle Ben, who was inexplicably murdered

2017 Arctic Report Card: Sea ice melting unprecedented in at least 1,500 years

Look. It's not great out there. On the iceIn the skyIn the water

So -- fixing this nightmare (as much as we can) is going to require big moves. Huge moves. Unprecedented moves. Previously unimaginable moves. Because otherwise, that's game over, right?

Imagine you get a diabetes scare. Doctor tells you it's bad. Lose the carbs, or lose a foot. The conundrum is you love bagels like nobody's business. But a foot is useful, yes? So, of course, you choose the foot. 

What I'm trying to say is in this situation, carbs = all the cheap fossil-fuel power sources, extravagant living, and industrialized meat we've been marinating in for a century now. And if we ditch those fucking delicious bagels for sunlight and wind, we just might leave 20-30 inches of sea level rise on the table

And what are just a few of those potential moves? Thanks for asking:


#1: Sucking the existing pollution right out of the air

Hugely enjoying this on-going carbon-capture technology series, "The Race to Zero Emissions", by Akshat Rathi at Quartz. Hell of a reporting job on the tech that might be our make or break.

"Remarkably, the material that built the first modern civilization remains key to building today’s global economy. The cement we use in 2017 is not so different from the stuff used to build the concrete dome of the Roman Pantheon in 125 AD.

What has changed is that today we use vastly greater quantities of the grey powder: more than 4.2 trillion kg annually. To put that in perspective, you could build 1,000 Hoover Dams each year with the amount of concrete that much cement would make.

That’d be all well and good except for the fact that 1 kg of cement releases more than than 0.5 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a result, the cement industry is currently responsible for about 5% of global CO2 emissions—more than double the aviation industry. Worse still, unlike the electricity industry, which one day might be comprisedof entirely clean, renewable energy, the chemistry of conventional cement dictates that the process will continue to produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

Unless, that is, Nicholas DeCristofaro’s plans work out. Since 2008, Solidia Technologies, where DeCristofaro is chief technology officer, has been quietly developing a new cement-making process that produces up to 70% fewer CO2 emissions at a cost that DeCristofaro claims is on par with or better than conventional cement."



#2: Taxing meat

"“Sin taxes” on meat to reduce its huge impact on climate change and human health look inevitable, according to analysts for investors managing more than $4tn of assets.

The global livestock industry causes 15% of all global greenhouse gas emissions and meat consumption is rising around the world, but dangerous climate change cannot be avoided unless this is radically curbed. Furthermore, many people already eat far too much meat, seriously damaging their health and incurring huge costs. Livestock also drive other problems, such as water pollution and antibiotic resistance.

A new analysis from the investor network Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (Fairr) Initiative argues that meat is therefore now following the same path as tobacco, carbon emissions and sugar towards a sin tax, a levy on harmful products to cut consumption. Meat taxes have already been discussed in parliaments in Germany, Denmark and Sweden, the analysis points out, and China’s government has cut its recommended maximum meat consumption by 45% in 2016."


#3: Stop funding new oil, gas, and coal projects

"The World Bank will stop financing oil and gas exploration and extraction from 2019, it announced Tuesday at a climate summit seeking to boost the global economy's shift to cleaner energy.

"The World Bank Group will no longer finance upstream oil and gas, after 2019," it said in a statement in Paris, where world leaders sought to unlock more money for the shift away from Earth-warming fossil fuels.

The move, it said, was meant to help countries meet the greenhouse gas-curbing pledges they had made in support of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming.

...The World Bank's mandate is to provide finance and other assistance to aid the economic advancement of developing countries."

+ Per the WB's mission, this will obviously affect developing countries more than developed. But hey maybe then we can avoid situations like this one.


#4: Entertain geoengineering aka Snowpiercer which worked out fine

"So a growing chorus of scientists have been mumbling about geoengineering. Doing things like spraying sulfur in the stratosphere or whitening clouds to bounce light back into space to help cool things down. And last week, Congressman Jerry McNerney joined them, introducing a bill that would ask the National Academies of Science to explore technologies to geoengineer Earth. In two reports, they'd explore research avenues and oversight of that research—that is, if the bill gets past McNerney's colleagues and then the only world leader to shun the Paris Climate Agreement.

To be clear, McNerney would love nothing more than for the US to cut emissions. But the climate situation has become so dire that he thinks geoengineering is now something the US is obligated to explore. Not, like, initiating a full-scale manipulation of the stratosphere next week, but at least looking into the idea. “It's very important that we understand what our tools are,” he says. “What options do we have? How much risk is there?”"

+ It's weird how odd this level of forward-thinking feels. 


Because our current methods might be in deep shit.

Climate change could take the air out of wind farms

"Big offshore wind farms power Europe’s drive for a carbon-free society, while rows of spinning turbines across America’s heartland churn enough energy to power 25 million US homes. But a new study predicts that a changing climate will weaken winds that blow across much of the Northern hemisphere, possibly leading to big drops in clean wind energy.

That’s because the temperature difference between the North Pole and the equator, which drives atmospheric energy in the form of winds and storm systems, is shrinking as the Arctic warms. A warmer Arctic means less of a temperature difference and therefore weaker winds across the central United States, the United Kingdom, the northern Middle East, and parts of Asia."


More climate change news:

Renewable Energy Is Surging. The G.O.P. Tax Bill Could Curtail That.

Six Ways We Can Adapt to Climate Change

Macron trolls Trump, lures US climate scientists to France

Air quality in Beijing is up 41% this year. That's great news. But it's crushing energy market worldwide. Note: transitions are often painful, expensive, and absolutely necessary.


And finally, because it's insane:

"Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin provide a unique service: Financial transactions that don’t require governments to issue currency or banks to process payments. Writing in the Atlantic, Derek Thompson calls bitcoin an “ingenious and potentially transformative technology” that the entire economy could be built on — the currency equivalent of the internet. Some are even speculating that bitcoin could someday make the U.S. dollar obsolete.

But the rise of bitcoin is also happening at a specific moment in history: Humanity is decades behind schedule on counteracting climate change, and every action in this era should be evaluated on its net impact on the climate. Increasingly, bitcoin is failing the test.

Digital financial transactions come with a real-world price: The tremendous growth of cryptocurrencies has created an exponential demand for computing power. As bitcoin grows, the math problems computers must solve to make more bitcoin (a process called “mining”) get more and more difficult — a wrinkle designed to control the currency’s supply.

Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the U.S. for one day. And miners are constantly installing more and faster computers. Already, the aggregate computing power of the bitcoin network is nearly 100,000 times larger than the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers combined.

The total energy use of this web of hardware is huge — an estimated 31 terawatt-hours per year. More than 150 individual countries in the world consume less energy annually. And that power-hungry network is currently increasing its energy use every day by about 450 gigawatt-hours, roughly the same amount of electricity the entire country of Haiti uses in a year."

+ Emphasis mine because what the fuck is happening


Fuck Cancer, Volume LXXV

Faster, more accurate cancer detection using nanoparticles

"Using light-emitting nanoparticles, Rutgers University-New Brunswick scientists have invented a highly effective method to detect tiny tumors and track their spread, potentially leading to earlier cancer detection and more precise treatment.

The technology, announced today, could improve patient cure rates and survival times.

"We've always had this dream that we can track the progression of cancer in real time, and that's what we've done here," said Prabhas V. Moghe, a corresponding author of the study and distinguished professor of biomedical engineering and chemical and biochemical engineering at Rutgers-New Brunswick. "We've tracked the disease in its very incipient stages."

The study, published online today in Nature Biomedical Engineering, shows that the new method is better than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other cancer surveillance technologies."


New trials show cancer immunotherapy can be incredibly effective—and incredibly dangerous

"When the treatment works, it seems like an almost ideal therapy. Unlike chemotherapy and radiation, it’s a one-time procedure, and does away with many of the worst side effects associated with cancer treatment. And in theory, it should fight off cancer for the rest of a patient’s life.

Unfortunately, few things in life are ever perfect, and CAR T is no exception. In its attempt to kill cancer cells, the treatment effectively sends the immune system into overdrive. That jacked-up immune response can often cause something called cytokine-release syndrome. The cells that the engineered T cells target release a group of proteins known as cytokines, triggering a massive inflammatory response."


Got cancer? Sign up here.

Cancer treatment progress stunted by lack of volunteers (VIDEO)


A New You

Scientists use CRISPR to turn genes on without editing their DNA

"For the first time, researchers at the Salk Institute in San Diego were able to use CRISPR to activate beneficial genes in live mice suffering from muscular dystrophy, Type 1 diabetes and acute kidney injury.

In more than 50% of test cases, the animal’s health improved after the CRISPR intervention, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Cell.

Previous work already had demonstrated that CRISPR could be used to alter gene expression in cells in a petri dish, but the new study represents the first time the technique has worked in a live animal, the scientists said.
The feat is significant.

“We moved this technique one big step toward human therapy,” said Hsin-Kai Liao, a postdoctoral researcher at Salk and co-first author on the paper."


Scientists ‘Inject’ Information Into Monkeys’ Brains


"(It) may sound like an outtake from “The Matrix.” But now two neuroscientists at the University of Rochester say they have managed to introduce information directly into the premotor cortex of monkeys. The researchers published the results of the experiment on Thursday in the journal Neuron.

Although the research is preliminary, carried out in just two monkeys, the researchers speculated that further research might lead to brain implants for people with strokes.

“You could potentially bypass the damaged areas and deliver stimulation to the premotor cortex,” said Kevin A. Mazurek, a co-author of the study. “That could be a way to bridge parts of the brain that can no longer communicate.”


To Go Where No (Interstellar Object) Has Gone Before (Here)

Please please please please please

"Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire behind Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million search for intelligent extraterrestrial life, had already heard about the peculiar object. ‘Oumuamua barreled into view in October, the first interstellar objectseen in our solar system.

Astronomers around the world chased after the mysterious space rock with their telescopes, collecting as much data as they could as it sped away. Their observations revealed a truly unusual object with puzzling properties. Scientists have long predicted an interstellar visitor would someday coast into our corner of the universe, but not something like this.

“The more I study this object, the more unusual it appears, making me wonder whether it might be an artificially made probe which was sent by an alien civilization,” Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard’s astronomy department and one of Milner’s advisers on Breakthrough Listen, wrote in the email to Milner.

A day later, Milner’s assistant summoned Loeb to Milner’s home in Palo Alto. They met there this past Saturday to talk about ‘Oumuamua, a Hawaiian word for “messenger.” Loeb ran through the space rock’s peculiarities, particularly its elongated shape, which looks like a cigar or needle—an odd shape for a common space rock.

For Milner, the object was becoming too intriguing to ignore. So he’s decided to take a closer look."


NASA’s plan to save Earth from a giant asteroid

"Between 1988 and 2017, NASA recorded over 700 fireballs created by foreign objects entering our atmosphere. While the odds of a direct hit are extremely low, the sheer number of occurrences is enough to make us wonder: could another strike occur? If so, how dangerous would it be? After all, dinosaur extinction was likely caused by a major asteroid colliding with Earth near present-day Chicxulub, Mexico.

Hoping to avoid a similar fate for humanity, NASA scientists are currently developing techniques to detect and prepare for a significant asteroid collision. As part of their efforts, they have developed three different plans for how humans could deflect an asteroid and steer it away from impacting Earth."


Let's check in with our new masters, shall we?

New robots can see into their future

"University of California, Berkeley, researchers have developed a robotic learning technology that enables robots to imagine the future of their actions so they can figure out how to manipulate objects they have never encountered before. In the future, this technology could help self-driving cars anticipate future events on the road and produce more intelligent robotic assistants in homes, but the initial prototype focuses on learning simple manual skills entirely from autonomous play."


+ More on robots and AI, here:

Inside Baidu's bid to lead the AI revolution

Alpha Zero’s “Alien” Chess Shows the Power, and the Peculiarity, of AI

Robots are fueling the quiet ascendance of the electric motor


This feels like a rational question to ask

"Is there a limit to (human) scientific understanding?

There are two reasons why this might (be the case).

The optimistic one is that we clean up and codify certain areas (such as atomic physics) to the point that there’s no more to say.

A second, more worrying possibility is that we’ll reach the limits of what our brains can grasp. There might be concepts, crucial to a full understanding of physical reality, that we aren’t aware of, any more than a monkey comprehends Darwinism or meteorology. Some insights might have to await a post-human intelligence."


The Leftovers