My newsletter to round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of the optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of optimism/pessimism, as noticed in the media.
* “Graphene performance doubled by removing silicon contamination”. The finding is from RMIT in Melbourne, publishing in Nature Communications, so it seems like a very promising breakthrough. “They found that the graphene was contaminated by silicon, which is present in natural graphite, and had not been fully removed when processed for industrial use.”
* Just in time for the Christmas-present purchases, the UK’s Spiked magazine has another review of the new Hans Rosling book, today, “Across the world, things are better than we think”.
* Ikea completes replanting of three million rainforest trees in Sabah, Borneo. The Ikea trees are not newly-planted saplings, it seems. After 20 years work, by 150 workers and researchers… “the restoration phase is over” and “wildlife such as orangutans and elephants have returned to the rehabilitated rainforest.” The background story here is that the island has been heavily deforested for palm oil production, partly for supposedly ‘green’ biofuels, with Sabah said to be the worst affected district.
* Researchers in Wyoming have field-tested a deep-learning model that can “identify images of wild animals from camera-trap photographs at great speed and with near-perfect accuracy.” Near-perfect means 96.6%, so there will still be many mis-identifications across millions of pictures, but it’s early days and the techniques will no doubt be speedily refined through mass deployment.
* “World’s First Land-Based Coral Farm Coming to Bahamas”. A proven and accidentally-discovered process uses “micro-fragmenting” to split corals into small pieces, each of which then regrows up to 40 times faster than via normal methods. Commercial farming operations are aiming to quickly move into this newly-opened reef restoration space.
* “Banning plastics ‘could cause more damage to planet'”… “40 academics from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh … state that arguments surrounding a reduction or ban are ‘often short-sighted and not based on facts’.”
* Engineering & Technology magazine casts a sceptical expert eye over recent reporting on possible stratospheric aerosol injection to ‘combat’ future greenhouse warming. “Everything about this story oozes a disaster waiting to happen”. “Stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) isn’t something that can be done in stages. We can’t do a little bit over the mid-Atlantic and see if the Earth has an allergy to it. Once it’s up there we will all experience the consequences, good or bad.”
I’d add that nor can we guarantee that a few big tropical volcanoes won’t randomly erupt, a few months after the aerosol injection, thus tripling the newly human-induced effect. For as much as 1,000 years, perhaps, if their particles combine with the human ‘aerosol injection’ in the wrong way at the wrong point in the atmosphere.
Anyway, it’s all moot, as SAI is clearly effectively ‘weather warfare’ technology — and as such completely outlawed under the United Nations Weather Weapons Treaty and the Environmental Modification Convention.
* The Jewish Journal on “Hanukkah, Talmud and the Science of Hope”… “A study of the predictive value of optimism and hope distills hope down to two distinct components. One is pathways, our belief in our ability to identify strategies for accomplishing a desired result and for facing obstacles along the way. The other is agency, the belief that we can initiate and sustain the motivation necessary to execute our strategies. Notice that while both components involve positive beliefs, it was agency (energy and effort) that served as the strongest predictor of positive outcomes.”
I’d add that while it’s useful to hear about a new study, the article makes it seem a little either-or binary: either optimism or hope. Optimism and hope comes in different flavours and are enmeshed in a shifting patchwork of emerging influences, in which they become shaded and hinted as new facts and possibilities brush past them.
* “Israel’s Demographic Miracle”… “within a mere fifteen years the number of Jewish children rose by more than 45 percent” … “Israel’s rising fertility rates, together with the continuing arrival of new Jewish immigrants, when placed against the opposite trends in most diaspora communities, mean that for some years now, Israel has been the world’s largest single Jewish community — something unprecedented since the period of the Second Temple.”
* “What Others Can Learn from Israel about Having Children”… “the country’s cultural norms, which include a specifically Israeli style of parenting, may contribute to its fertility bonanza.”
* “The First-Ever Anthology of Israeli Science Fiction and Fantasy” has been published. Zion’s Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature is fronted by an “extensive essay” which steps through the history of Israel’s science-fiction and fantasy scene. Although Mosaic Magazine points out some gaps in the roots of the essay’s coverage, namely the “early and arguably pioneering instances of Israeli space opera and [fantasy] wizards”.
* A small army of volunteers is set to tromp across the British Isles, to unearth pre-1949 public footpaths which have been recently used by the public but are left unrecorded on British O.S. maps. There’s a deadline of 2026 in the UK, after which any pre-1949 unrecorded public footpath which hasn’t been seen on the maps for over 75 years will be deemed defunct. Saving the nation some £20m a year.
* “DARPA claims breakthrough for the treatment of depression, anxiety”. I don’t normally take notice of such ‘health breakthrough’ announcements here, as I don’t have the expertise to sort the many hucksters from the genuine therapies. Nor is it fair on sufferers to have their hopes constantly raised and dashed. But when it’s DARPA and the U.S. military reporting, then I take more notice. And while you’re waiting for DARPA to roll something out to the general population… some good practical advice on how to stop negative self-talk.
* And finally on a lighter note, in “So That’s What Flying Cars Are For” the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine takes a questioning-but-sympathetic look at new business models and designs among companies working on ‘the flying car’. “Flying cars are not impossible; they’re just hard. And hard things take a little time to get off the ground.” Possibly firstly in the form of autonomous self-flying light-cargo aircraft, it seems, rather than hijack-able passenger carriers.
Enjoyed this post? There’s more at the ‘Something for the Weekend’ newsletter archive.