Something for the weekend #10

A weekly round-up of optimism, noticed in the media:

* Chew on this: Plastic-eating enzyme hailed as breakthrough in recycling, reports The Times of London (£, popup screen-blocker)…

“Scientists from Britain and the United States believe that their work could result in an enzyme that would degrade [depolymerise] polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and turn it into its original chemical chains, ready to be used again.” “Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth and Dr Gregg Beckham at NREL solved the crystal structure of PETase—a recently discovered enzyme that digests PET — and used 3D information to understand how it works. During this study, they inadvertently engineered an enzyme that is even better at degrading the plastic than the one that evolved in nature. The research team can now apply the tools of protein engineering and evolution to continue to improve it.”

* A little slip: Microengineered slippery rough surface for water harvesting from air. That’s water simply sucked from the air…

“Simon Dai was looking at combining different biological strategies to create a slippery solution for water harvesting. […] If the new SRS material is produced at scale, the team estimate they can collect over 120 liters of water per square meter of the surface per day”.

* Cashing in: “The world is getting richer or freer – probably both” given reports on the growing demand for cash, says the Adam Smith Institute.

* The tide turns: UK Government announces £61 million package to tackle marine litter.

* Dutch swingers: Dutch happier says hope barometer.

“The Happiness Economics Research Organisation and the Institute for Leadership and Social Ethics, asked 1,600 Dutch people about their hopes for the future and analysed the results” […] “for the first time there were more positive than negative people in the country”.

* The pop kids are alright: Population boom: not a problem. Even in the big nations in Africa…

“… it’s looking as if the dire predictions of Malthus and Ehrlich will never come to pass. Unlike other animals, humanity has voluntarily limited its reproduction. The population bomb has probably been defused.”

* Perusing the future: Low-income young adults in Peru show the effects of hope on life outcomes. A rare grassroots study of why and how the young in the developing world are so optimistic. In Peru they are…

“… growing up at a time in Peru that poverty has been falling markedly, while a nascent — and very visible — lower middle class is emerging, as in many other emerging market economies.”

* ‘Have a heart, old chap’: Optimistic people ‘less likely to have heart attacks’ reports Spectator Health.

* The view from Nebo: From 1950s rationing to modern high-tech boom: Israel’s economic success story, from The Times of Israel ($, popup screen-blocker).

* Beating the bush: Tiny Aboriginal community in remote bush builds $6 million airport, runs it themselves at a profit, and after seven years have just paid off the loan…

“Djarindjin Airport on the Dampier Peninsula, 75 miles north of Broome, has become a one-of-a-kind in Australia as it is fully staffed and managed by local indigenous workers with zero tolerance to drugs and alcohol. The operation provides work for about 20 people from Djarindjin and surrounding Aboriginal communities Ardyaloon and Beagle Bay and is expected to do so for many years to come … At the moment airport teams are hot refuelling up to 24 helicopters daily…”

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Something for the weekend #9

A weekly round-up of optimism, noticed in the media:

* Back to Adam: “Just to remind everyone, ‘the good old days’ are right now”, says the free-market Adam Smith Institute.

* Double-time: “Demand for UK exports set to double by 2030”. The “HSBC [bank] found that Britain’s export boom looks set to continue. The bank predicted that exports will rise by 22 per cent by 2020, and double overall by 2030.”

* It’s NYT happening: “Progress Gets Overlooked” by the media. Who knew? A short New York Times interview ($) by David Bornstein with Steven Pinker, on Pinker’s optimistic new book.

* Charging ahead: “Warnings of a lithium glut may be premature”. No, your rechargeable lithium batteries aren’t going to suddenly become scarce… “doomsayers assume all the lithium in brine or hard rock deposits will get processed, but that’s not the case … There’s no shortage of lithium in the world”. The industry actually appears to be worrying about a glut of over-supply.

* Fish tales: An isotope fingerprinting method for fish, which “can differentiate organic, conventional, and wild salmon from different origins”. This should mean that dodgy fishermen and warehouses can’t pass off illegally-caught wild fish to stores and eateries, as being premium ‘sustainably farmed fish’.

* Eat your hot wheaties: A new heat-resistant wheat… “can withstand 35-40°C temperatures” in central Africa and mature in record time.

New Book: Factfulness by Hans Rosling

The new book from the recently departed Hans Rosling, the Swedish statistician, science populariser, and pessimism debunker: Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.

Looks good, despite being rather off-putting recommended by the lefties at BBC Radio 4. There’s coverage of the new book at the Financial Times: “Why the world isn’t nearly as bad as you think it is” (£) and Telegraph Science “Do you have a distorted view of the world? Why life is better than we think” (£). The latter cheerily leading with a picture of an atomic bomb exploding. Gotta work on your visual positivity, guys…

Something for the weekend #8

Optimism and causes for optimism, spotted in the media this week:

* Smashing capitalism: British exports hit a record high / UK’s National Living Wage increases are making SME jobs more fulfilling / U.S. Economy is booming… and “Labor Department puts unemployment at 17-year low”.

     → Smashing news, keep it up!

* Trump-tastic!: “American optimism about the next generation’s future is up seven points since 2016. According to a recent Gallup poll [sample size: 1,503 adults], about 6 in 10 Americans (61%) say it is very (18%) or somewhat (43%) likely that the next generation will have a better life than did their parents.” Gallup stated: “Americans are generally feeling optimistic about the direction of the economy, and recent Gallup polling suggests that Americans still think the American dream is alive.” A related Gallup poll asked women about how well they’re doing: “Fifty-three percent of American women say they’re thriving”.

     → My Google News search suggests this has been buried by the media since its release two days ago, as it has only been covered in about four news outlets. And one of those, still deep in Trump Denial Syndrome, feigned a perplexed air and asked: “Major mystery: Why are Americans suddenly so optimistic?”

* Taking waste for a spin: A new spinout company from the University of Oxford is “founded on technology that can turn waste from plastic, tyres and biomass into high quality transportation fuels and chemicals”.

     → Admittedly it’s only a new startup, but the technology involved is from a highly reputable university and it appears to be sound and scalable. There’s also good news this week of the discovery of new ways to extract the firmly-embedded plastics found in electronic waste such as old circuit boards.

* Moo knew?: “Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions”.

     → The link is to is a very dense peer-reviewed science paper, but the paper is handily translated into plainer-English by the bovine boffins at The Cattle Site: “Our four-year study suggests that [multi-paddock] grazing can potentially offset greenhouse gas emissions [to the extent that] beef production could be a net carbon sink”. It appears that a few relatively simple and do-able changes in how we raise beef cattle can vastly reduce their various forms of greenhouse gas emission, and even make raising beef cattle into a carbon sink — while also cleaning up local fish streams. The McDonalds fast-food-chain appears to have jumped on this beefy new science, and are saying this week that… “By 2030, the company plans to work with suppliers and franchisees to cut emissions 36% compared to 2015, even as the chain grows.” Now if only they can do something similar for all the litter that their ignorant customers generate.

* Great steaming fools: “A History Lesson in Technological Optimism: Simon, Jevons, and Lardner”.

     → The Competitive Enterprise Institute looks back to the 1840s and finds much the same moaning and gloom about the steam engine as we later endured in the 1970s under Erlich et al, and with much the same effects. We can now see that… “Those who gave in to pessimism and fear did little more than inflict misery (and their own hot air) on the rest of humanity”.

Private Cities

An excellent Tom Woods Show, on the idea of autonomous Private Cities and how they might work. If you’ve begun to give the show a miss due to dry topics such as the Sherman Antitrust Act, FDA regulation, or Fractional Reserve Banking (I know I had), then this fascinating episode is an excellent corrective. The guest Titus Gebel is very cogent and succinct in presenting an outline of his ideas.

However, the guest’s mention of one prominent group of seasteaders and their progress is out of date. Their attempts to woo the government of French Polynesia appear to have abruptly failed. According to March 2018 reports in Business Insider someone misinformed the government there that the ‘steaders were just trying to set up a libertarian tax haven, and the locals annulled the deal they’d made. It’s a pity. But if the locals were going to be that screwy and unreliable, it’s probably best that the ‘steaders learned that before they even started building platforms out in the ocean.

Picture: Evolo skyscraper design challenge: the ‘Gerridae’ tidewater towers.

New book: 2020 & Beyond

Superversive Press is a rare publisher specialising in traditional heroic and conservative science-fiction (tagline: “books for a more civilised age”). One of their most recent books is the optimistic and future-facing conservative sci-fi anthology MAGA 2020 & Beyond (Nov 2017)…

“MAGA 2020 & Beyond tells the tales of a prosperous future where evil is defeated, the border wall is built, society has righted itself, space exploration is common and world peace has been attained. These aren’t just fantastical stories of a far-fetched future, they are stories of a future that can be obtained.”

For my piffling £3 I got 340 pages of optimistic essays and futurist articles and short fiction. Available on Kindle.

I see they also have a forthcoming sci-fi anthology for readers who are “sick of today’s portrayals of men as toxic or bumbling idiots”. The call for that book was last September, so I’m guessing it’ll be available soon.

I have to say that 2020 & Beyond doesn’t have the best front cover. I want a bit of curvy eco-green in my future city, not some re-hash of a tired 1980s conception of a future city. And while I can see how the gold typeface is meant to evoke MAGA/Trump, it’s in such a cheesy font and the gradient is naff. I do wish people would use cover consultants and put a bit more thought into covers, but I guess bad covers are now just a near-unavoidable occupational hazard for science-fiction authors. Very few get the superb covers they deserve. That said, many of Superversive Press’s steampunk and art-lit covers are definitely above average.