We Speak For Earth

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Posts tagged "technology"

Consider, then, the narrative daisy chain that makes up the literature of creativity. It is the story of brilliant people, often in the arts or humanities, who are studied by other brilliant people, often in the sciences, finance, or marketing.

The readership is made up of us — members of the professional-managerial class — each of whom harbors a powerful suspicion that he or she is pretty brilliant as well. What your correspondent realized… was that the real subject of this literature was the professional-managerial audience itself, whose members hear clear, sweet reason when they listen to NPR and think they’re in the presence of something profound when they watch some billionaire give a TED talk.

And what this complacent literature purrs into their ears is that creativity is their property, their competitive advantage, their class virtue. Creativity is what they bring to the national economic effort, these books reassure them — and it’s also the benevolent doctrine under which they rightly rule the world.



[trigger warning: misogynoir] D.N. Lee (@DNLee5), a Black scientist (her blog is called The Urban Scientist on Scientific American Mind) was treated in the most disrespectful way by a science publication, Biology-Online.org. They wanted her to blog for them. She inquired about what they wanted, the frequency and the pay. The editor advised her of the details and that there is no pay. She politely declined

Then their editor replied with “are you urban scientist or an urban whore?” 

The fuck?

A Black woman works hard to become a scientist only to be called a “whore” because she expects to be paid for her work. PAID FOR WORK, you know that neat thing that people all over America expects and one that America has a history of not always doing where Black women and Black people in general are concerned? Black women are regularly insulted when we fight back against labor exploitation or even simply say no, like she did. We cannot say no? I’ve been called every name in the book for this.

So not only is the well-engrained hatred of sex workers involved in this insult (because they’re paid for sex, which is outlandish to patriarchy since men feel they are owed sex), not only is there the misogyny that women in STEM face endlessly, but the way this person used her blog title in the insult to be “clever” also implies specific anti-Black misogyny or misogynoir

Did you ask why some Black women/women of colour and White women avoid STEM like a plague? Did you think it was the sexist myth that all women “can’t” do science and are “afraid” of math? Very few people recognize the gravity of the sexism and racism in STEM and how that (in addition to capitalism) actually shapes what degrees are deemed “useless" or not and even creates a hierarchy among the degrees deemed “useless.” Very few want to examine how the cycle below contributes to why some women opt out of STEM and why some women face so much abuse in STEM: 

Gender socialization → Sexism  → Misogyny  → Stereotype threat → Confirmation bias

The fact that this person would actually type the word “WHORE” in a professional email to someone they sought work from turns my stomach and makes me stabby as hell. 

I love her confident and nuanced reply in the video above. I LIVE! She deserves to be treated with respect and this publication with its misogynoir needs to re-evaluate themselves and the editor needs to be held accountable.

(I am not clear if she lost her blog position but her post about her experience was taken down from Scientific American Mind but elaborated on in a post on Isis The Scientist. Read more here: An Open Letter To Scientific American Mind And Why You’ve Lost A Reader #BoycottSciAm from someone who followed her situation.)

Misrepresentation of women of color, specifically black women in STEM fields and communities, leads to this sort of disgusting behavior within scientific communities. But let’s keep ignoring the problem of racist, sexists attitudes in these communities so we can march onward with “rationale and logic” right? This is such bullshit. No one should have to go through this for doing what they love and expecting respect.

(via afro-dominicano)

We’re gonna need this science stuff down the road, when the Earth’s environment gets less “congenial to our survival.”


Reducing carbon dioxide emissions may not be enough to curb global warming, say Stanford University scientists. The solution could require carbon-negative technologies that actually remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.


Decaying plants contribute to global warming by releasing carbon dioxide into the air. Now researchers are converting plant wastes into biochar - a charcoal-like substance that can be used as fertilizer to permanently lock the carbon underground. These lettuce plots in Minnesota were amended with 20,000 pounds of macadamia-nutshell biochar per acre to evaluate the effect on crop yield, soil fertility and greenhouse gas production from the field. Image: Amanda Bidwell, USDA/Agricultural Research Service.

In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, President Obama singled out climate change as a top priority for his second administration. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence,” he said. “Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”

Four years ago, the president addressed rising global temperatures by pledging a 17 percent cut in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 2020, and an 80 percent cut by 2050. The administration has taken a number of steps to meet those goals, such as investing billions of dollars in wind, solar and other carbon-neutral energy technologies.

But reducing CO2 emissions may not be enough to curb global warming, according to Stanford scientists. The solution, they say, could also require developing carbon-negative technologies that remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. Their findings are summarized in a report by Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP).

“To achieve the targeted cuts, we would need a scenario where, by the middle of the century, the global economy is transitioning from net positive to net negative CO2 emissions,” said report co-author Chris Field, a professor of biology and of environmental Earth system science at Stanford. “We need to start thinking about how to implement a negative-emissions energy strategy on a global scale.”

In the GCEP report, Field and lead author Jennifer Milne describe a suite of emerging carbon-negative solutions to global warming – from bioenergy technologies to ocean sequestration. Many of the examples cited were initially presented at a negative carbon emissions workshop hosted by GCEP in 2012.

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Emissions from coal power stations could be drastically reduced by a new, energy-efficient material that adsorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide, then releases it when exposed to sunlight.

In a study published today in Angewandte Chemie, Monash University and CSIRO scientists for the first time discovered a photosensitive metal organic framework (MOF) – a class of materials known for their exceptional capacity to store gases. This has created a powerful and cost-effective new tool to capture and store, or potentially recycle, carbon dioxide.

By utilising sunlight to release the stored carbon, the new material overcomes the problems of expense and inefficiency associated with current, energy-intensive methods of carbon capture. Current technologies use liquid capture materials that are then heated in a prolonged process to release the carbon dioxide for storage.

Associate Professor Bradley Ladewig of the Monash Department of Chemical Engineering said the MOF was an exciting development in emissions reduction technology. 

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The handheld Electromagnetic Harvester allegedly charges a AA battery using just the electromagnetic fields given off by gadgets, power lines, vehicles, and even living things.

We’re surrounded by electromagnetic fields almost everywhere these days. Just because they’re almost imperceptible doesn’t mean they can’t be used as a source of energy though. One student in Germany recently built the Electromagnetic Harvester, a small box that allegedly charges an AA battery using just the electromagnetic fields given off by the likes of power lines, vehicles and electronic gadgets.

Dennis Siegel, a digital media student at the University of the Arts in Bremen, designed the handheld charger as a way to recover some of the energy from these electromagnetic fields. It may sound a little sketchy, but it’s an idea that many researchers, including a team at Georgia Tech, have been exploring for years. The main issue with this form of energy collection is the amount of power it generates tends to be incredibly small, which might explain why it takes a full day for the Electromagnetic Harvester to charge a single AA battery.

According to Siegel, using the harvester involves simply holding it up to anything with an electromagnetic field – a cell phone, a coffee maker, a commuter train, etc. Once it enters a strong enough field, a red LED will light up to indicate it is charging. It also has a magnet on the back to leave it attached near an EMF source and can charge from the combined fields of living things, like when a person pets a dog. Seigel designed two different versions of the harvester: one for frequencies below 100Hz (like those found in electricity mains) and one for frequencies above 100Hz (like those found in Bluetooth, WLAN, and radio broadcasts).

But don’t start thinking this signals the end of charging devices through ordinary wall sockets just yet. While the potential for this type of technology being used to charge very low-powered devices like wireless sensors or RFID tags is there, we remain very skeptical about any practical consumer electronics applications. Aside from not being able to generate enough power for a typical smartphone user, Siegel has yet to reveal any specifics on how his take on the ambient energy charging device works – only that it involves “coils and high frequency diodes.” So while it’s great in theory, we’ll take these claims with a grain of salt.




We could be engaged in off-Earth mining within a decade. Image: puuikibeach/Flickr

The prospect of people settling away from Earth has been a topic for dreamers and visionaries for some time. But if it’s ever to happen for real, there needs to be more than starry-eyed optimism. There needs to be a business model, and ways of supporting the colonists.

The business model exists, and it’s one we’ve tried before. When Europe colonised the Americas (from 1492 onwards), it was the potential for mining which drew the colonists. Hernán Cortés’conquest of Mexico and Francisco Pizarro’s of the Inca empire were partially about land they were annexing for Spain, but more important was the gold and other riches that could be extracted from that land. A similar opportunity exists in space, without the bloodshed of those conquests.

In 2012, the US-based company Planetary Resources was set up as a new venture to mine asteroids for water, rare minerals and other high-value materials. The gold we use on Earth is believed to have come from asteroids and was not on the earth when it was molten, and objects the size of planets have been discovered which are mainly diamond.

A rival to Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, is due to launch next week, looking for platinum.

On the moon, it is possible to mine water, but possibly the most useful resource is Helium-3, very rare on Earth but comparatively abundant on the moon. It can be used in fusion reactors.

The first uses for these mining applications would in fact not be to return them to Earth for exploitation, but to aid in other space activities, such as “refuelling” satellites or missions going further afield, such as to Mars. The colonists will need oxygen and water – not as dazzling as gold and diamonds, but more valuable. Oxygen and water can be extracted by mining and chemically processing the dust.

Of course, there are many barriers to setting up a mining operation in space. Machinery must be designed to work with different types of soils, in zero or low gravity. Automation of that equipment must be such that it needs little intervention from Earth. That automated equipment must be able to position itself without GPS. And it all must work first time, after exhaustive simulation on Earth.

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You could call it the cleantech cliff: Global clean-technology venture investment plunged to $6.46 billion in 2012, down 33 percent from the $9.61 billion invested a year ago, according to San Francisco-based research and consulting firm Cleantech Group. 

“2012 was a difficult year for the sector,” Sheeraz Haji, CEO of the Cleantech Group, said during a conference call. “Anyway you cut it, there’s been a significant drop-off.” 

Haji cited several reasons for investor skittishness. The low price of natural gas has made it harder for renewable energy to compete on cost. Venture capitalists are shying away from capital-intensive deals after seeing companies like Santa Clara-based Misasole sold at fire sale prices. And global economic uncertainty took a toll: Several privately backed cleantech companies, including Oakland’s BrightSource Energy, were forced to shelve their IPO plans and raise additional funds from existing investors.

The one bright spot belonged to SolarCity, a San Mateo-based solar financier and installer that had a successful IPO Dec. 13. SolarCity slashed its share price but ultimately raised $92 million. 

“It’s been a very difficult IPO environment,” Haji said. “SolarCity was a big success, and that was the exception.” 

Cleantech includes a variety of technologies and sectors, including biofuels, electric vehicles, the smart grid, solar and wastewater treatment. The number of venture deals recorded in 2012 was 704, 15 percent lower than the 829 deals tracked in 2011. The deals mostly were smaller, follow-on rounds of funding. Sixty percent were Series B or later rounds, accounting for 90 percent ($5.83 billion) of all money invested during the year. 

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One reason technology and markets are unlikely to prevent overshoot and collapse is that technology and markets are merely tools to serve goals of society as a whole. If society’s implicit goals are to exploit nature, enrich the elites, and ignore the long term, then society will develop technologies and markets that destroy the environment, widen the gap between rich and poor, and optimize for short-term gain.



A fully functional AVE power station with a 100-meter (328-foot) diameter is said to be capable of generating up to 200 megawatts of electrical power.

Tornadoes generally evoke the destructive force of nature at its most awesome. However, what if all that power could be harnessed to produce cheaper and more efficient electricity? This is just what Canadian engineer Louis Michaud proposes to achieve, with an invention dubbed the “Atmospheric Vortex Engine” (or AVE).

AVE works by introducing warm air into a circular station, whereupon the difference in temperature between this heated air and the atmosphere above creates a vortex – or controlled tornado, which in turn drives multiple wind turbines in order to create electricity. The vortex could be shut down by simply turning off the source of warm air.

Michaud’s company, AVEtec Energy Corporation, reports that the system produces no carbon emissions, nor requires energy storage to function, and that further to this, the cost of energy generated could potentially be as low as US$0.03 per kilowatt hour.

“The power in a tornado is undisputed,” enthused Michaud. “My work has established the principles by which we can control and exploit that power to provide clean energy on an unprecedented scale.”

The heat required to get the mini-tornado started would be provided by a temporary heat source, such as a heater, or steam. However, AVEtec states that once the vortex is thus established, the continuous heat could then be provided by a more sustainable source – such as waste industrial heat or warm seawater. According to the company’s figures, a functional AVE power station with a 100-meter (328-foot) diameter is capable of generating up to 200 megawatts of electrical power.

For now though, efforts are focused on producing an 8-meter (26-foot) prototype, which will create a 40-meter (141-foot) high vortex, with a diameter of 30 centimeters (11 inches). The vortex will power a single 1-meter (3.2-foot) turbine, and will be manufactured in partnership with Lambton College, in Sarnia, Ontario. This development is helped forward by a grant awarded by Breakout Labs.