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”.

Something for the weekend #7

Your weekly round-up of optimism I’ve noticed in the media:

* Bungs of cash bombard boffins: An Uptrend in U.S. R&D Spending: possible breakthrough period ahead

     → “The U.S. is now three years into this stretch of real spending increases [on R&D], and it bodes well for the next few years. More importantly, much like what happened in the prolonged period of spending increases after the 1990 recession that lead to the technology boom of the late 1990s, this would be the first seven to eight year stretch of meaningful annual spending increases since that time.”

* They’re just about moan-aging: UK investment is at a record high. So why has almost no one reported it?

     → Only noticed by the financial paper, the FT.

* Many happy returns: “Optimism is a Force Multiplier”.

     → “The effect of a leader’s enthusiasm and optimism is incredible. The impact of leadership’s pessimism can be equally impactful but in the wrong direction.” This one is more from the ‘happy-clappy’ / ‘management techniques’ end of the optimism spectrum. But it has some wise words nonetheless.

* Milo safe!: Is South Florida Doomed By Sea-Level Rise? Experts Say No. In Fact, They’re Optimistic.

     → Good news, we’ll adapt. But once past the headline and opener the article becomes infested with a swarm of ugly and disreputable headline-grabbing attempts, and the WGCU/WLRN journalist is obviously too clueless to challenge even the most basic of these. For instance:

“If all of Greenland melted, that would be 27 feet equivalent” of sea level rise globally, [scientist] Ben Kirtman says. “Twenty-seven feet is a little bit like the national debt. It’s beyond my imagination.” But, he adds, scientists are certain that people alive today won’t be around to see that.

Whereas he should have been honest, rather than grossly alarmist and highly misleading. He is slyly insinuating that one’s grandchildren could face 27ft of sea-level rise from Greenland alone, and the journalist is letting him get away with it. But we know, for instance, that Greenland’s ice-cap will still be about 98.5% intact by 2200 (more figures here).

Something for the weekend #6

Your weekly round-up of optimism in the media:

* Another grip in the wall: The Queen’s Crown Estate has installed a new type of moss wall in central London, for tests and trials. It’s a vertical “City Tree” green wall of mosses, cultivated to thrive in urban areas [and theoretically] capable of gripping onto and reducing air pollutants “including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter from the surrounding area by up to 30%”.

     → It has nice seats with backs, too. Such seats are becoming all too rare in the UK, as any opportunity to sit down in comfort for free is slowly but assiduously being removed from public spaces.

* No more ‘secret science’: The USA’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will make all of its science and data public, adopting a policy suggested by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

     → Specifically the EPA… “will reverse long-standing EPA policy allowing regulators to rely on non-public scientific data in crafting rules. [and in future] EPA-funded studies would need to make all their data public.”

* He cracked it: “Why The ‘Father Of Fracking’ Probably Deserves A Nobel Peace Prize” suggests The Federalist.

     → “George P. Mitchell has unleashed a ripple of wealth and peace around the globe.”

* The rising tide of cash: Saudi Arabia plans to invest $10 billion in buying a group of islands in the Indian Ocean.

     → According to increasingly questionable computer models, these islands should have long since sunk beneath rising waves.

* Pop up!: In the face of continuing high levels of piracy and sharing (and some frankly mediocre pop music-making) the U.S. Music Industry sees fastest growth in more than 20 years

     → “U.S. recorded music sales climbed 17 percent to $8.7 billion last year, the second straight gain in domestic revenue, the Recording Industry Association of America said Thursday.”

* It’s a riddle: “Bad news is sudden, good news is gradual” says Matt Ridley (author of The Rational Optimist).

     → In the face of huge and increasingly well-documented reasons for optimism “… the bias against good news in the media seems to be getting worse.”

* New science, old school: A new book, Rock, Bone, and Ruin: An Optimist’s Guide to the Historical Sciences.

     → Geology, palaeontology, archaeology and ancient genetics are seeing surging progress, and also very significant synergies with each other and with Big Data. The book suggests that this… “gives us every reason to be optimistic about their capacity to uncover truths about prehistory”. The author… “examines and refutes arguments for pessimism about the capacity of the historical sciences [and] argues for a creative, open-ended approach, ’empirically grounded’ speculation.”

* My bad: Thomas Sowell’s new book Discrimination and Disparities demolishes claims that ‘bad outcomes’ in life are always attributable to discrimination and prejudice.

     → The new book has a very clunky and offputting cover, but it’s great to see Sowell is still cogent and publishing timely new works at age 89.

* Happier frogs: In French only, the book Environnement : les années optimistes (trans: Environment: the Optimistic Years)… “reports the most significant environmental gains made in recent years.”

     → Though I note that its list of reasons for optimism appears to omits the overall re-greening of the planet.

* Sprogs with nogs: Martin Seligman’s well-regarded 1995 book The Optimistic Child: A Revolutionary Approach to Raising Resilient Children is being republished in the UK as an affordable Kindle ebook. I see that a Trantor unabridged audiobook edition also became available in the UK in 2017.