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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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”.

Tired

Wired magazine, such a pity… Every day brings new evidence that the once great magazine of future-optimism is now being heavily glommed onto by the loony left…

Headline 1: Despite all the excellent news on the UK economy and in the creative industriesWired‘s headline suggest that fearful techies emigrate to Ireland to escape the horrid Brexit.

Headline 2: Instead of looking at the hard science on the unfounded claim that African drought = greenhouse warming, and the abundant evidence of the internal incompetence and corruption in South Africa… Wired‘s headline claims the problems there are down to “climate change”.

Clock off

A new article in Spiked, “Don’t panic, the end is not nigh : why we shouldn’t take the Doomsday Clock seriously”

“If you read the summary of the board’s decision, it sounds like a modern Western liberal’s complaint list. … The Bulletin’s decision to move the clock hands in 2018 suggests that the clock represents Western liberals’ own fears rather than an unbiased evaluation of the current likelihood of humanity destroying itself. The clock is no longer a useful metaphor to imagine the threat to humanity; rather, it is a metaphor for the fears of international elites that feel increasingly isolated and insecure.”

Such a potently alarmist symbol of doom was inevitably going to become the target of the usual ‘leftist takeover attempt’. Such things are so common these days, that perhaps we need a “Watch List”, drawing up a database of vulnerable institutions, assiduously and systematically watching for signs of squishiness and infiltration by the left. Then providing robust and speedy assistance to help rebuff such attempts.

New book from Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker (Better Angels of Our Nature) has a new book on pre-order now, for delivery at the end of February 2018. Enlightenment Now is another 570-page door-stopper, and looks for optimism in fifteen measures of human progress, crunching the data by using the same approach Pinker used for violence in Better Angels.

Good to see another optimistic book, but it seems slightly worrying that (according the U.S. Amazon page) the Guardian and the New York Times both love it. If they like a book, then I’m instantly suspicious that it harbours some ugly leftisms.