Archive | November, 2011

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Iran’s Perilous Path

Posted on 25 November 2011 by Jerry

It has been widely reported that since 2009 North Korea has had a missile capable of threatening Alaska.  In 2011 they tested an aircraft-to-surface-ship missile which poses a direct threat to the South Korean Navy.  In the mind of many, having a nuclear weapon is not very valuable unless you can deliver it to a distant enemy.  For this reason, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) investigates the enhancement of missile capabilities to get an early warning of nuclear weapons development.  The IAEA has numerous sources of information; reports from other UN member states, copies of various seized documents, and informants of various types.  It is exactly this type of information that has prompted the IAEA to issue a report that in part warns of continued Iranian pursuit of weapons grade nuclear material and a missile capability to deliver bombs elsewhere.

The Annex section at the back of a report entitled Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran provides just such warning signs of Iranian progress toward having nuclear weapons and a missile delivery capability.  The Annex provides a more or less chronological description of information that has come to the IAEA from a variety of sources.  This information shows what appears to be a long term Iranian commitment to obtaining the technology, materials and delivery capabilities for nuclear weapons.  Sections of the report speak to the history of nuclear development in Iran, procurement activity related to components and nuclear material, development of detonator technology and detailed engineering design studies to stress test a prototype payload and its storage chamber to see how well they would stand up in practice to simulated launch and flight stresses.

This information was the basis of calls for imposition of even stricter sanctions on the state of Iran and many of its individual leaders.  I have included a link to the actual U.N. document so you can read the Annex and judge for yourself how serious the situation is.

Use the following link for more information on the Iranian nuclear weapons development program: http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/focus/iaeairan/bog112011-65.pdf

November 25, 2011 – San Francisco

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World CO2 Jump is Biggest in History

Posted on 22 November 2011 by Jerry

New measurements show the global output of carbon dioxide jumped the biggest amount in history in 2010.  Surpassing the worst case scenario estimated by climate scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just four years ago, the emissions grew by 512 more metric tons of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009.  This result is detailed in a new report issued jointly by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).

Of total emissions in 2010, China was the worst polluter: contributing 8,950 million tonnes of CO2 while the U.S. followed with 5,250 million tonnes of its own.  In emissions per person, Australia led the pack with 18.0 tonnes of CO2, tailed closely by the U.S. with 16.9 tonnes.   But, in this measurement [per person] China was in not even in the top 10 CO2 contributors.  China did have however, the largest increase in per capita emissions at 205% while the U.S. actually decreased its per capita emissions by 14%. Detailed results for 24 countries are presented in the report shown at the URL identified below.

Climate scientists around the world were alarmed by these results as they showed acceleration of CO2 emissions. This is a sign of how little progress the world’s largest contributors of CO2 to the atmosphere have made in implementing changes to slow climate change.

A related report appearing in Scientific American’s April 2011 issue lists total investment in clean energy technologies by some of the world’s largest investing countries.  In 2010 China was the largest investor with an estimated investment of over $50 billion.  The U.S. was in second place with over $29 billion invested.  The top six countries in the EU, together, were spending almost as much as the U.S.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.pbl.nl/en/news/pressreleases/2011/steep-increase-in-global-co2-emissions-despite-reductions-by-industrialised-countries

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=clean-tech-rising

November 22, 2011, San Francisco

 

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Weather Goest Thou?

Posted on 12 November 2011 by Jerry

Researchers from around the world have begun to move to a new phase of grappling with climate change. A series of new reports have been issued to show thinking has moved beyond substantiation of climate change to more detailed planning for its various affects and mitigation. Excellent examples of these reports and findings come from the United Kingdom and the United States:

Foresight International Dimensions of Climate Change (2011), Final Project Report, The Government Office for Science, London (129 pages): The premise of this report is that the British live in a warming world and while the government attempts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, it must also adopt complementary strategies to help its citizens and businesses and the world’s populations adapt to the coming changes. It acknowledges that the United Kingdom will be affected by what is happening in the rest of the world through all of its global dependencies and networks and must plan its early responses to what is happening. The report examines anticipated effects that will impact the UK’s foreign policy and security, financial industry and other businesses, resources and commodities, health and infrastructure.

As an example, under the category of National Security and International Interventions the report looks at an increase in failed states and ungovernable spaces, increased calls for international interventions, more calls for humanitarian assistance and new contingency arrangements. The British also anticipate increased domestic protests as a result of new migrant communities, increased nuclear proliferation as more nations move to civil nuclear power to decarbonize their energy, and increased tensions in the Arctic region due to development of its newly uncovered resources and recently cleared shipping lanes.

Another objective of this report is to anticipate how global human population movements will be affected by global environmental changes and identify choices and actions which can be taken today that will be flexible enough to encompass future uncertainties. The report cites its global perspective on the issue of migration in the context of environmental change. It analyzes migration globally between low-income and high-income countries and among low-income countries with a particular focus on low-income countries which are most vulnerable to environmental change.

In analyzing past migrations in response to various disasters the report concludes that most migration will be within countries from rural areas into urban areas and that if cities are in vulnerable regions this migration make serve to make matters worse. Assuming large scale economic deterioration in environmentally challenged areas, many of the migrants who do not have economic options may become “trapped” populations that are unable to leave high risk areas.

Preparing for Resettlement Associated with Climate Change, October 28, 2011, Vol 334, Science, 2 pages. This report was authored by a panel of scientists under the auspices of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, New York. Decrying the present lack of detailed planning for mass migration as a result of climate change, the panel indicated that any worldwide temperature rise of more than 2° to 4° C this century will make resettlement virtually unavoidable in some regions of the world. Looking at past more regional efforts, the panel identified that temporary protected status such as that provided to Haitians after their 2010 earthquake and legislative measures taken by some EU countries, as well as temporary work visas, may assist those affected by climate change natural disasters.

In addition, beyond these measures funds should be made available for “assisted relocation” that entails financial compensation and incentive mechanisms to “allow households impinged by climate hazards or infrastructure projects to leave affected areas and choose their destination.” Further, “Resettlement strategies must include economically feasible reconstruction of productive activities [e.g. jobs and education], with sufficient income generation, restoration of livelihoods, and adequate cultural integration with hosts.”

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, Chapter 11, Protect Life Imperative – Climate Change, we identify that climate change may required significant changes in how the world operates to mitigate negative impact on affected populations. It argues for personal flexibility indicating “There is nothing sacred about how we live presently. Cities can be changed. Transportation can be changed. Economic policy can be changed. Everything can change. We must not hold on to failing processes, technology or institutions. We cannot let our grasp on the familiar keep us from reaching for the future.”

Use the following links to see the original reports and gain more information:
http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/international-dimensions-of-climate-change.pdf

http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/migration/11-1116-migration-and-global-environmental-change.pdf
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6055/456.full?sid=640785f8-c9f8-4f25-b58a-db1e6fbe2e97

November 11, 2011 – San Francisco

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Panels Look at Genetic Engineering of “Chimeras” in UK and Germany

Posted on 06 November 2011 by Jerry

When you create an animal combining genetic material from a human being and from a non-human animal species, it is known as a Human-Animal Chimera.  The word Chimera (ki-meer-uh) came from the name of a mythical Greek fire-breathing she-monster having a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail.  When two of the world’s most advanced nations, within a few months of each other (in July and September 2011), issue panel study results considering the ethics of a specific type of experiment you know something has likely begun which the governments are attempting to catch up to.  Such is the case with the experimental creation of human-animal transgenic organisms.  Transgenic refers to taking an organism or cells from one species and incorporating the cells or genes from another species into it making the resulting animal “transgenic”.

In fairness, these panels responded to new rules issued by the European Union last year requiring countries to establish national ethics boards to oversee animal research.  This of course does not reduce the importance of the panels.  A September 27, 2011 article in Science Magazine by Gretchen Vogel compares the two reports, from Germany and the UK, saying about the German report “The report’s philosophical slant – it cites Aristotle, Kant, Hans Jonas, and others – gives it a slightly different flavor from one issued by the British Academy of Medical Sciences in July.  That report came to similar conclusions but based its recommendations on what the panel thought the British public would find objectionable.”

Supportive of this last point, apparently some scientists were not concerned about the morality of various experiments but rather the public’s reaction to them.  Geneticist Martin Bobrow of the University of Cambridge who chaired the academy’s working group is quoted as saying, “We are trying to get this issue out there before anything has happened.  If the public has heard about something, they are less likely to get irritable when something does hit the headlines.” His statements seem to label the U.K. national ethics panel as more of a damage control function than moral watchdog.

The following describe the recommendations of the two panels regarding Animals Containing Human Material (ACHM):

United Kingdom:

The report recommends three categories for classification of experiments involving ACHM.  The first is experiments that should be subject to the same oversight and regulation as other animal experiments.  The second category is experiments that should receive extra review before obtaining permission to proceed.  Last is a category of experiments that should be entirely off limits.  The following are examples of experiments that fall into the second and third categories.

Category

2.  Those that modify an animal’s brain to make it more “human-like”

2.  Those that place functional human germ cells in animals

2.  Experiments that could make animals’ appearance or behavior more human

2.  Those that add human genes or cells to nonhuman primates

3.  Breeding animals that have or could develop human germ cells in their gonads

3.  Those that attempt to transplant enough human-derived neural cells into a nonhuman primate

to prompt human-like behavior

3.  Those that allow embryos that mix human and nonhuman primate cells to develop beyond 14

days.

Notes:

a)      Embryos that are “predominately animal,” but still contain human cells are unregulated in the United Kingdom.  The report recommends closing that loophole.

b)      The germ line of a mature or developing individual is the line or sequence of germ cells that have genetic material that can be passed to a child.


Germany:

Germany did not recommend categories for experimentation.  Using the British categories however, the following are experiments which either require further review and permission to proceed (category 2) or should be banned entirely (category three).

Category

2.  Those that make transgenic monkeys with human genes

2.  Those that put human brain cells into animals (These need better methods to measure the

effects of such cells on recipients’ behavior)

3.  Introducing animal material into the human germ line

3.  Those that would lead to the development of human sperm or eggs in an animal

3.  Implanting an animal embryo into a human

These panel reports should be cause for concern about these burgeoning sciences.  If these are the experiments that two major developed and mature nations are publicly concerned with and talking about, what are all the other counties of the world doing.  The fact that reports recommend that certain experiments be banned entirely should be interpreted to acknowledge that the capability to conduct them exists and that they are not banned today.  We could assume these experiments and others are being conducted around the world.  This is a chilling thought.

 

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, Chapter 13: Protect Life Imperative – Synthetic Biology discusses the science of genetic engineering as having discovered the means to compromise or bypass life’s natural and evolved defenses.  Beyond Animal, Ego and Time states “What is happening in synthetic biology and to a large extent with genetic engineering is thousands of people are pursuing a genetic land rush by staking claims to own the genetics of life.”

The public conclusions of the scientific panels of the UK and Germany should give us a small window into what is happening in genetic engineering or, at a minimum, what is possible

Use the following links for more information:

http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/09/german-ethics-council-weighs-in-.html

http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/07mice-with-human-brain-cells-more.html

http://www.acmedsci.ac.uk/p47prid77.html (select Report Synopsis)

November 4, 2011, San Francisco, Genetic Engineering

 

 

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