Tag Archives: politics

Systems thinking

Systems thinking involves the use of various techniques to study systems of many kinds. In nature, examples of the objects of systems thinking include ecosystems – in which various elements (such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals) interact. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that operate together to make an organization “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Systems Engineering is the discipline that utilizes systems thinking to design, build, operate and maintain complex engineered systems.


The Circular Economy concept has deep-rooted origins and cannot be traced back to one single date or author. The generic concept has been refined and developed by the following schools of thought:

Regenerative design (representative: John T. Lyle).
Performance economy (representative: Walter Stahel).
Cradle to Cradle (representatives: Michael Braungart and William McDonough)
Blue Economy (representative: Gunter Pauli)
Permaculture (representatives: Bill Millison and David Holmgren)
Biomimicry (representative: Janine Benyus)
Industrial Ecology (this is more than a school of thought, it is an academic discipline that has been taught from the 1990s)


The evaluation of processes that protect the environment alongside resource and energy consumption to most favourable to least favourable actions.[1] The hierarchy establishes preferred program priorities based on sustainability.[1] To be sustainable, waste management cannot be solved only with technical end-of-pipe solutions and an integrated approach is necessary.[2]

The waste management hierarchy indicates an order of preference for action to reduce and manage waste, and is usually presented diagrammatically in the form of a pyramid.[3] The hierarchy captures the progression of a material or product through successive stages of waste management, and represents the latter part of the life-cycle for each product.[3]

The aim of the waste hierarchy is to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste. The proper application of the waste hierarchy can have several benefits. It can help prevent emissions of greenhouse gases, reduces pollutants, save energy, conserves resources, create jobs and stimulate the development of green technologies.[4]

All products and services have environmental impacts, from the extraction of raw materials for production to manufacture, distribution, use and disposal. Following the waste hierarchy will generally lead to the most resource-efficient and environmentally sound choice but in some cases refining decisions within the hierarchy or departing from it can lead to better environmental outcomes.[5]

Life cycle thinking and assessment can be used to support decision-making in the area of waste management and to identify the best environmental options. It can help policy makers understand the benefits and trade-offs they have to face when making decisions on waste management strategies. Life-cycle assessment provides an approach to ensure that the best outcome for the environment can be identified and put in place.[5] It involves looking at all stages of a product’s life to find where improvements can be made to reduce environmental impacts and improve the use or reuse of resources.[5] A key goal is to avoid actions that shift negative impacts from one stage to another. Life cycle thinking can be applied to the five stages of the waste management hierarchy.

For example, life-cycle analysis has shown that it is often better for the environment to replace an old washing machine, despite the waste generated, than to continue to use an older machine which is less energy-efficient. This is because a washing machine’s greatest environmental impact is during its use phase. Buying an energy-efficient machine and using low- temperature detergent reduce environmental impacts.[5]

The European Union Waste Framework Directive has introduced the concept of life-cycle thinking into waste policies.[5] This duality approach gives a broader view of all environmental aspects and ensures any action has an overall benefit compared to other options. The actions to deal with waste along the hierarchy should be compatible with other environmental initiatives.

stop harassing climate scientists

Representative Lamar Smith is using his bully pulpit as head of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology to subpoena National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate scientists’ emails, peer review comments, and other private information. He’s upset with a paper NOAA scientists published in Science refuting claims of a global warming slowdown, so he’s smearing the scientists who wrote it.

Sign our letter urging Chairman Smith to withdraw the subpoena and stop harassing climate scientists.

NOAA scientists met several times with committee staff to explain the research. But Chairman Smith continues to manufacture a controversy by insisting that NOAA turn over the scientists’ correspondence—and now, deposing NOAA employees.

We need to make sure the public knows that these actions can create a chilling effect on research and make NOAA scientists less effective. This affects all experts who work and correspond with federal scientists. The American Meteorological Society said it best in a letter to Chairman Smith: “The advancement of science depends on investigators having the freedom to carry out research objectively and without the fear of threats or intimidation whether or not their results are expedient or popular.”

This abuse of power has to stop. Sign our letter today.

Michael Halpern
Manager of Strategy and Innovation
Center for Science and Democracy
Union of Concerned Scientists

The morality of evolution

The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex is a book on evolutionary theory by English naturalist Charles Darwin, first published in 1871. It was Darwin’s second book on evolutionary theory, following his 1859 work, On the Origin of Species, in which he explored the concept of natural selection. In The Descent of Man, Darwin applies evolutionary theory to human evolution, and details his theory of sexual selection, a form of biological adaptation distinct from, yet interconnected with, natural selection. The book discusses many related issues, including evolutionary psychologyevolutionary ethics, differences between human races, differences between sexes, the dominant role of women in choosing mating partners, and the relevance of the evolutionary theory to society.

As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions. There is more than one reason why the Church is advising our youth to attend colleges close to their homes where institutes of religion are available. It gives the parents the opportunity to stay close to their children, and if they become alerted and informed, these parents can help expose some of the deceptions of men like … Charles Darwin.

Ezra Taft Benson

More than other modern societies, United States relies, even depends, on myth to cement its confidence. Americans are profoundly ahistorical.

Our national myths are representations of identity and the actual instrument of acculturation. This process of acculturation through myth, moreover, is achieved through entertainment: television and movies. The culture of a society—its ethos—defines distinctive patterns of individual and group behavior. Culture shapes the way we look at the world. Whatever our immediate group membership, our final sense of identity is shaped by larger cultural patterns. If we define ourselves according to myth, what kind of worldview has it given us?

First, at the core,  the United States has an essentially religious value system. The primal myth of our origin is that of the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” with the Plymouth Colony completely overshadowing Virginia and its lineal transplanting of British class and caste. We believe that the source and inspiration of America is bound up in religion: religious freedom, but also the moral vantage of Calvin. The impact of Protestant thought is felt in the ways we talk about mission, service, sacrifice, restraint. It underlies the sense that Americans share of serving a higher calling. This underpinning remains dominant today even though it is highly secularized, and transmuted into legal, constitutional language.

Second, Americans still hew a set of specific myths about the United States. One of these is that America is the source of human progress and can achieve perfection as a society. Americans believe that there has never been a society quite like our own. This American “exceptionalism” suggests that we are a people graced with unusual natural endowments. We think of ourselves literally as a “people of plenty.” But our mythology also reminds us that this land was a great “untamed wilderness,” a “land of savagery.” It was the exceptional will, unity and vision of the American people and their beliefs that transformed the landscape. The twin icons of national bounty and national achievement have inspired two senses of an American national purpose: a conviction that the United States should serve as an example to the world, that America and its people are the model for all human development; and an impulse to change the world for good, to become the active agency of human progress. Tyranny and resistance to change are so entrenched in the world that only direct American intercession can shift the direction of history. America’s gifts demand that it assume a missionary role.

In the United States at the turn of the 20th century, Darwinism was greeted with glee because it seemed so compatible with the prevailing ideology of theday,  where robber-baron capitalists like the Carnegies, Mellons, Sumners, Stanfords and yes, even Jack London, could not stop rattling on about how the “survival of the fittest” justified crushing unions, exploiting immigrant labor or being left unregulated to amass huge fortunes while administering monopolies. In the popular ethos of the United States, there is a confusion of Capitalism with the American worship of the individual and the nuclear family. It can be argued that these ideas are related but they are different and independent. According to the American work ethic you only get what you work for, but this is not what Capitalism is. Capitalism is the idea that market forces, carried out by intelligent agents looking for profit (self interest), let by themselves will generate wealth and prosperity for society as a whole. The dichotomy Capitalism/Socialism is actually dated. If one understands socialism as government control of the economy, all, 100%, of the world’s governments are socialist to some degree. In any case, we now live in a competitive society and are often told that to get ahead we require drive, commitment and determination, that we must expend a great amount of energy and, if necessary, use force to get what we want. A ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality is deeply entrenched in our culture. Despite the fact that this Wild West mentality  is a historical byproduct, it is now attributed to Darwin’s Origin of the Species.

Religious fundamentalists are sincere on their view of the World as a battleground between Good and Evil. For them anything that undermines faith in God, specially with regards to children, is utterly evil. The teaching of Science to children, in particular Evolution, is seen as a threat to children indoctrination. Nonetheless,  the attack on Evolution is an attack on Science as a whole. Science is not about what to believe but rather a method to perceive Reality. It is the critical objective look at reality aspect of Science that is perceived as a treat by the religious establishment. However, teaching religious ideas as an alternative to factual descriptions of reality undermines science education by misinforming students about the scientific method — the basis for science literacy.

The scientific method teaches students the fundamentals of science — how to observe data, perform experiments and form scientific theory. Religious explanations for creation are not science – they cannot be confirmed or denied by the scientific method. Teaching them as science confuses and misleads students about the scientific method, thereby warping their ability to live in a technology-driven society

Most people don’t read scientific papers because they are extremely complex. Even college science students have a hard time digesting scientific papers. But what is easy to understand is that, since the bible says this, science says that, therefore science is the devil, and since we hate the devil and our job is to fight him, we must hate science and fight it. Christian leaders can be blind sighted to the outside world at times. All this commotion about a science that goes against the bible. The Bible today, still says that the Earth does not move around the sun as much as it did thousands of years ago. The Bible did not change. At the end of the Middle Ages, Christian leaders threatened heavy punishment to Galileo for suggesting that, based on his scientific evidences, the Earth revolved around the Sun.

Any effort to introduce a theological doctrine into public school science curricula would inevitably offend some teachers and students. After all, a Protestant fundamentalist’s “literal” reading of Genesis would likely differ markedly from that of a Catholic or an Orthodox Jew. Both public school educators and religious leaders should be concerned about the prospect of biology lessons degenerating into debates on Biblical or religious interpretation.

Evolution by natural selection, at its core, works like this: living organisms are characterized by heritable variation for traits that affect their survival and reproductive abilities. This heritable variation originates from the (truly random) process of mutation at the level of DNA. The process of evolution turns out to be largely the result of two components: mutations (which are random) and natural selection (which, again, is not random). It is the joint outcome of these two processes that—according to evolutionary theory—explains not only the diversity of all organisms on Earth, but most crucially the fact that they are so well adapted to their environment: those that weren’t did not survive the process. Because the environment changes overtime, and therefore, what characteristics of life forms are better changes, and it cannot be said in absolute terms that extinct forms are inferior to those present today.

You may find it intuitively difficult to believe that two relatively simple natural processes can produce the complex order we observe in living organisms. But the beauty of science is that it so often shows our intuitions to be wrong. Because nature does not always function according to our common sense or intuition, the scientific method a necessity on the quest of the human race for survival.

Evolution is both a theory and a fact, contrary to simplistic creationist views. How can this be? Evolution is a fact in the sense that it is beyond reasonable doubt that living organisms have changed over time throughout the history of the earth. It is a theory in the sense that biologists have proposed a variety of mechanisms (including, but not limited to, mutation and natural selection) to explain the fact of evolution.

The theory of evolution is a fundamental concept of biology and it is supported by the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence. Simply eliminating evolution from the public school curriculum in order to ease community tensions would do a great disservice to all students. It would deny public school students an adequate science education – which is more and more becoming a necessity for professional success in a high-tech world.

It must be said that there is a propagandistic perversion of language, and there are religious groups that use the language of science to mislead and actually undermine a scientific conceptualization of Reality. Religious opponents of evolution have cloaked religious beliefs in scientific sounding language and then mandating that schools teach the resulting “creation science” or “Intelligent Design” as an alternative to evolution. Intelligent Design organizations are fundamentalist religious entities that consider the introduction of creation science into the public schools part of their ministry. Creation science rested on a “contrived dualism” that recognized only two possible explanations for life, the scientific theory of evolution and biblical creationism, treated the two as mutually exclusive such that “one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution,” and accordingly viewed any critiques of evolution as evidence that necessarily supported biblical creationism. Creation science is simply not science because it depends upon supernatural intervention, which cannot be explained by natural causes, or be proven through empirical investigation, and is therefore neither testable nor falsifiable.

The argument for Intelligent Design (ID) is not a new scientific argument, but is rather an old religious argument for the existence of God, traced back to at least Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, who framed the argument as a syllogism: Wherever complex design exists, there must have been a designer; nature is complex; therefore nature must have had an intelligent designer. Although proponents of ID occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed. The writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity. Dramatic evidence of ID’s religious nature and aspirations is found in what is referred to as the “Wedge Document.” The Wedge Document, developed by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Renewal of Science and Culture. The Discovery Institute, the think tank promoting ID whose CRSC developed the Wedge Document, acknowledges as “Governing Goals” to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies” and “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”

ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

Because Science wins over Religion on factual description of Reality, the attack on Science is made nowadays on moral grounds.  From the point of view of religious fundamentalists, Science is a competing religion, although a silly one at that. Then the scientific community is under attack with this straw-man argument against evolution:

But if design, conversely, is rational, why do so many scientists reject it? Because this is not an issue of science, but of religion. Their religion is that of materialism and naturalism, and they are under no illusions as to the implications of design.

James M Tour, in the blog entry Layman’s Reflections on Evolution and Creation. An Insider’s View of the Academy, claims insufficient understanding of what he calls Macroevolution. Macroevolution is evolution on a scale of separated gene pools.[1] Macroevolutionary studies focus on change that occurs at or above the level of species, in contrast with microevolution,[2] which refers to smaller evolutionary changes (typically described as changes in allele frequencies) within a species or population. However, contrary to claims by creationists, macro and microevolution describe fundamentally identical processes on different time scales.

Russian entomologist Yuri Filipchenko first coined the terms “macroevolution” and “microevolution” in 1927 in his German language work, “Variabilität und Variation”. Since the inception of the two terms, their meanings have been revised several times and the term macroevolution fell into limited disfavour when it was taken over by such writers as the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt (1940) and the paleontologist Otto Schindewolf to describe their orthogenetic theories.[7]

A more practical definition of the term describes it as changes occurring on geological time scales, in contrast to microevolution, which occurs on the timescale of human lifetimes.[8] This definition reflects the spectrum between micro- and macro-evolution, whilst leaving a clear difference between the terms: because the geological record rarely has a resolution better than 10,000 years, and humans rarely live longer than 100 years, “meso-evolution” is never observed.[8]

As a result, apart from Dobzhansky, Bernhard Rensch and Ernst Mayr, very few neo-Darwinian writers used the term, preferring instead to talk of evolution as changes in allele frequencies without mention of the level of the changes (above species level or below). Those who did were generally working within the continental European traditions (as Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, Bernhard Rensch, Richard Goldschmidt, and Otto Schindewolf were) and those who didn’t were generally working within the Anglo-American tradition (such as John Maynard Smith and Richard Dawkins). Hence, use of the term “macroevolution” is sometimes wrongly used as a litmus test of whether the writer is “properly” neo-Darwinian or not.

At the end of his article, Tour makes a reference to the movie, “Expelled. No Intelligence Allowed.”, a pro-intelligent design movie, which among other claims, strongly implies that Charles Darwin‘s ideas led to Adolf Hitler‘s atrocities. Tour asserts that a subset of the scientific establishment is retarding the careers of Darwinian skeptics. He closes citing  Viktor Frankl , The Doctor and the Soul with the comment If Frankl is correct, God help us:

“If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.
“I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers [emphasis added].”

The movie Expelled main theme is that what it calls Darwinism inherently contain the seeds of Nazism, and even more Darwinism equals Nazism. This frighteningly immoral narrative is capped off a la Moore, with shots of the Berlin Wall, old stock footage of East German police kicking around those trying to escape through the wall to the West and some solemn blather by Ben, who calls upon each one of us to rise up in defense of freedom and knock down a few walls in order to get creationism back into the curriculum at American Schools.

From Darwin to Hitler: evolutionary ethics, eugenics, and racism in Germany is a 2004 book by Richard Weikart, a historian at California State University, Stanislaus,[1] and a senior fellow for the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute.[2] The work is controversial.[3] Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky wrote that “numerous reviews have accused Weikart of selectively viewing his rich primary material, ignoring political, social, psychological, and economic factors” that helped shape Nazi eugenics and racism.

The Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement, “provided crucial funding” for the book’s research.[5] The Institute operates DarwinToHitler.com, which promotes the book and intelligent design.[6] Prominent historian and critic of the intelligent design movement, Barbara Forest, states that the book is tied to the DI’s ‘wedge strategy‘ of attacking Darwinian science as morally corrupting.[7] This strategy aims to “defeat [the] materialist world view” represented by the theory of evolution in favor of “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”[8]

Weikart has appeared in creationist films promoting the book. In 2006, Weikart appeared in Coral Ridge Ministriescreationist film Darwin’s Deadly Legacy in which Weikart claims “Darwinian ideology is the core” of Nazism and D. James Kennedy concludes: “To put it simply, no Darwin, no Hitler.”[9][10] In 2008, Weikart, a supporter of intelligent design,[11] also appeared in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.  In fact, scientific theories, even those like Darwin’s that address organic life, are morally neutral.”   Creationist organizations, like Creation Ministries International cite Weikart’s work claiming it shows “extensive documentation of the Darwin–Hitler link.”

There were many nations, such as Britain which embraced Darwinism but saw a considerable number of their population killed trying to eliminate Nazism. There were other nations, such as the Soviet Union, where Darwinism was seen as so dangerous and subversive to State sponsored dreams of social engineering that those who espoused it were killed or exiled and a complete biological fairy tale, Lysenkoism, put into classrooms and agricultural policy ultimately leading to the deaths of millions from starvation.

Now, Christian groups are tying a neutral scientific theory to racism, antisemitism and xenophobia.That is extremely irresponsible and untrue. In fact, Christianity has a stronger link to anti-semiticism and xenophobia than Evolution which is a scientific theory that purports every man is from the same ancestor.

Throughout history, especially in the Crusades, European Christianity has consistently been a xenophobic culture – Jews were expelled out of England, were treated as second class citizens by Christians, and were not allowed to own lands. Black people were expelled by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth during the food shortage in England. Nazi Hitler, had Christianic themes in support of his treatment of the Jews.

The linking of Nazism to Evolution is a dishonest and cheap attempt at trying to personify a scientific theory as the root of all evil in the world. Evolution implies is that every human came from a single ancestor. Darwin himself was anti-slavery and he said that there was “no clear distinctive characteristics to categorize races as separate species, and that all shared very similar physical and mental characteristics indicating common ancestry”. However this went against Christian beliefs of that time. A German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who wrote “Life of Jesus”, “The Positivity of the Christian Religion” and thought to be Christian by many critics believed that scientific racism – or the use of science to propose that other races such as blacks are of different heritage and descended from apes “fitted well with the Christian belief of a divine Creation following which all of humanity descended from the same Adam and Eve.

The Bible sanctions slavery, and from the 1820s to the 1850s it was cited in the Southern States of the United States of America to support the idea that negroes had been created unequal, suited to slavery, by writers such as the Rev. Richard Furman, Joseph Smith Jr. and Thomas R. Cobb.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism).

Christians are very uncomfortable with the idea that Adam and Eve were Africans – who, by the now debunked scientific racism are deemed to be descendants of apes. This was a central Christian tenet for much more years than evolution was around, and it was the catalyst for the systematic degradation of a particular group of people – the fact that black people were descendants of apes, gave Christians the biblical right to rule over them. Now that evolution has equalized and showed that all men are equal, and given the current taboo of identifying oneself as racist as well as the demise of Scientific racism. Many xenophobic people turn to Intelligent Design as their last ditch attempt to salvage some element of supernatural support for dominion over a certain group of people. This does not mean all Intelligent Design supporters are racists, but it is certainly a comfortable place for xenophobic individuals to channel their energies to.

Habitat destruction

Uploaded on Mar 30, 2010
Murray Gell-Mann, the 2004-2005 Pardee Visiting Professor of Future Studies, argues that global problems cannot be considered in isolation, and he wonders about the best ways to separate environmental issues from those involving population growth.Run time 1:27

Hosted by Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future on September 27, 2005.

News coverage of environmental issues can be difficult, in part, because those who are affected—whether the effect is economic or environmental—routinely exaggerate their claims. Non-governmental organization advocates pull “facts” in one direction; big
business tugs them in another, and sometimes neither leaves the cushy offices in the northwest section of Washington, D.C. Truth resides in a place somewhere in between.

Preventing illness is the best way to get health-care costs down. So why aren’t governments doing more to protect the environment? We’ve long known that environmental factors contribute to disease, especially contamination of air, water, and soil. Scientists are now learning the connection is stronger than we realized.

New research shows that 60 per cent of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans — those that rapidly increase in incidence or geographic range — start with animals, two thirds from wild animals. Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Ebola, SARS, AIDS… these are just a few of the hundreds of epidemics that have spread from animals to people. A study by the International Livestock Research Institute concludes that more than two-million people a year are killed by diseases that originated with wild and domestic animals. Many more become ill.

Habitat destruction is the process in which natural habitat is rendered functionally unable to support the species present. In this process, the organisms that previously used the site are displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity.[1] Habitat destruction by human activity is mainly for the purpose of harvesting natural resources for industry production andurbanization. Clearing habitats for agriculture is the principal cause of habitat destruction. Other important causes of habitat destruction include miningloggingtrawling and urban sprawl. Habitat destruction is currently ranked as the primary cause of species extinction worldwide.[2] It is a process of natural environmental change that may be caused byhabitat fragmentation, geological processes, climate change[1] or by human activities such as the introduction of invasive species, ecosystem nutrient depletion, and other human activities mentioned below.

The terms “habitat loss” and “habitat reduction” are also used in a wider sense, including loss of habitat from other factors, such as water and noise pollution.

Tropical rainforests have received most of the attention concerning the destruction of habitat. From the approximately 16 million square kilometers of tropical rainforest habitat that originally existed worldwide, less than 9 million square kilometers remain today.[8] The current rate of deforestation is 160,000 square kilometers per year, which equates to a loss of approximately 1% of original forest habitat each year.[10]

Other forest ecosystems have suffered as much or more destruction as tropical rainforestsFarming and logging have severely disturbed at least 94% of temperate broadleaf forests; many old growth forest stands have lost more than 98% of their previous area because of human activities.[8] Tropical deciduous dry forests are easier to clear and burn and are more suitable for agriculture and cattle ranchingthan tropical rainforests; consequently, less than 0.1% of dry forests in Central America’s Pacific Coast and less than 8% in Madagascarremain from their original extents.

Habitat destruction caused by humans includes conversion of land to agricultureurban sprawlinfrastructure development, and other anthropogenic changes to the characteristics of land. Habitat degradation, fragmentation, and pollution are aspects of habitat destruction caused by humans that do not necessarily involve overt destruction of habitat, yet result in habitat collapse. Desertificationdeforestation, and coral reef degradation are specific types of habitat destruction for those areas (desertsforestscoral reefs).

Geist and Lambin (2002) assessed 152 case studies of net losses of tropical forest cover to determine any patterns in the proximate and underlying causes of tropical deforestation. Their results, yielded as percentages of the case studies in which each parameter was a significant factor, provide a quantitative prioritization of which proximate and underlying causes were the most significant. The proximate causes were clustered into broad categories of agricultural expansion (96%), infrastructure expansion (72%), and wood extraction (67%). Therefore, according to this study, forest conversion to agriculture is the main land use change responsible for tropical deforestation. The specific categories reveal further insight into the specific causes of tropical deforestation: transport extension (64%), commercial wood extraction (52%), permanent cultivation (48%), cattle ranching (46%), shifting (slash and burn) cultivation (41%), subsistence agriculture(40%), and fuel wood extraction for domestic use (28%). One result is that shifting cultivation is not the primary cause of deforestation in all world regions, while transport extension (including the construction of new roads) is the largest single proximate factor responsible for deforestation.[16]


Nanjing Road in Shanghai

While the above-mentioned activities are the proximal or direct causes of habitat destruction in that they actually destroy habitat, this still does not identify why humans destroy habitat. The forces that cause humans to destroy habitat are known as drivers of habitat destruction.Demographic, economic, sociopolitical, scientific and technological, and cultural drivers all contribute to habitat destruction.[15]

Demographic drivers include the expanding human population; rate of population increase over time; spatial distribution of people in a given area (urban versus rural), ecosystem type, and country; and the combined effects of poverty, age, family planning, gender, and education status of people in certain areas.[15] Most of the exponential human population growth worldwide is occurring in or close tobiodiversity hotspots.[7] This may explain why human population density accounts for 87.9% of the variation in numbers of threatened species across 114 countries, providing indisputable evidence that people play the largest role in decreasing biodiversity.[17] The boom in human population and migration of people into such species-rich regions are making conservation efforts not only more urgent but also more likely to conflict with local human interests.[7] The high local population density in such areas is directly correlated to the poverty status of the local people, most of whom lacking an education and family planning.[16]

From the Geist and Lambin (2002) study described in the previous section, the underlying driving forces were prioritized as follows (with the percent of the 152 cases the factor played a significant role in): economic factors (81%), institutional or policy factors (78%), technological factors (70%), cultural or socio-political factors (66%), and demographic factors (61%). The main economic factors included commercialization and growth of timber markets (68%), which are driven by national and international demands; urban industrial growth (38%); low domestic costs for land, labor, fuel, and timber (32%); and increases in product prices mainly for cash crops (25%). Institutional and policy factors included formal pro-deforestation policies on land development (40%), economic growth including colonization and infrastructure improvement (34%), and subsidies for land-based activities (26%); property rights and land-tenure insecurity (44%); and policy failures such as corruption, lawlessness, or mismanagement (42%). The main technological factor was the poor application of technology in the wood industry (45%), which leads to wasteful logging practices. Within the broad category of cultural and sociopolitical factors are public attitudes and values (63%), individual/household behavior (53%), public unconcern toward forest environments (43%), missing basic values (36%), and unconcern by individuals (32%). Demographic factors were the in-migration of colonizing settlers into sparsely populated forest areas (38%) and growing population density — a result of the first factor — in those areas (25%).

There are also feedbacks and interactions among the proximate and underlying causes of deforestation that can amplify the process. Road construction has the largest feedback effect, because it interacts with—and leads to—the establishment of new settlements and more people, which causes a growth in wood (logging) and food markets.[16] Growth in these markets, in turn, progresses the commercialization of agriculture and logging industries. When these industries become commercialized, they must become more efficient by utilizing larger or more modern machinery that often are worse on the habitat than traditional farming and logging methods. Either way, more land is cleared more rapidly for commercial markets. This common feedback example manifests just how closely related the proximate and underlying causes are to each other.

The rapid expansion of the global human population is increasing the world’s food requirement substantially. Simple logic instructs that more people will require more food. In fact, as the world’s population increases dramatically, agricultural output will need to increase by at least 50%, over the next 30 years.[19] In the past, continually moving to new land and soils provided a boost in food production to appease the global food demand. That easy fix will no longer be available, however, as more than 98% of all land suitable for agriculture is already in use or degraded beyond repair.[20]

The impending global food crisis will be a major source of habitat destruction. Commercial farmers are going to become desperate to produce more food from the same amount of land, so they will use more fertilizers and less concern for the environment to meet the market demand. Others will seek out new land or will convert other land-uses to agriculture. Agricultural intensification will become widespread at the cost of the environment and its inhabitants. Species will be pushed out of their habitat either directly by habitat destruction or indirectly by fragmentation, degradation, or pollution. Any efforts to protect the world’s remaining natural habitat and biodiversity will compete directly with humans’ growing demand for natural resources, especially new agricultural lands.

David Hilbert

David Hilbert (German: [ˈdaːvɪt ˈhɪlbɐt]; January 23, 1862 – February 14, 1943) was a German mathematician. He is recognized as one of the most influential and universal mathematicians of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Hilbert discovered and developed a broad range of fundamental ideas in many areas, including invariant theory and the axiomatization of geometry. He also formulated the theory of Hilbert spaces,[3] one of the foundations of functional analysis.

Hilbert adopted and warmly defended Georg Cantor‘s set theory and transfinite numbers. A famous example of his leadership in mathematics is his 1900 presentation of a collection of problems that set the course for much of the mathematical research of the 20th century.

Hilbert and his students contributed significantly to establishing rigor and developed important tools used in modern mathematical physics. Hilbert is known as one of the founders of proof theory and mathematical logic, as well as for being among the first to distinguish between mathematics and metamathematics.

Hilbert lived to see the Nazis purge many of the prominent faculty members at University of Göttingen in 1933.[14] Those forced out included Hermann Weyl (who had taken Hilbert’s chair when he retired in 1930), Emmy Noether and Edmund Landau. One who had to leave Germany, Paul Bernays, had collaborated with Hilbert in mathematical logic, and co-authored with him the important book Grundlagen der Mathematik (which eventually appeared in two volumes, in 1934 and 1939). This was a sequel to the Hilbert-Ackermann book Principles of Mathematical Logic from 1928.

About a year later, Hilbert attended a banquet and was seated next to the new Minister of Education, Bernhard Rust. Rust asked, “How is mathematics in Göttingen now that it has been freed of the Jewish influence?” Hilbert replied, “Mathematics in Göttingen? There is really none any more.”[15]

Hilbert’s tomb:
Wir müssen wissen
Wir werden wissen

By the time Hilbert died in 1943, the Nazis had nearly completely restaffed the university, inasmuch as many of the former faculty had either been Jewish or married to Jews. Hilbert’s funeral was attended by fewer than a dozen people, only two of whom were fellow academics, among them Arnold Sommerfeld, a theoretical physicist and also a native of Königsberg.[16] News of his death only became known to the wider world six months after he had died.

Hilbert was baptized and raised in the Reformed Protestant Church.[17] He later on left the Church and became an agnostic.[18] He also argued that mathematical truth was independent of the existence of God or other a priori assumptions.[19][20]

The epitaph on his tombstone in Göttingen consists of the famous lines he spoke at the conclusion of his retirement address to the Society of German Scientists and Physicians in the autumn of 1930. The words were given in response to the Latin maxim: “Ignoramus et ignorabimus” or “We do not know, we shall not know”:[21]

Wir müssen wissen.
Wir werden wissen.

In English:

We must know.
We will know.

The day before Hilbert pronounced these phrases at the 1930 annual meeting of the Society of German Scientists and Physicians, Kurt Gödel—in a roundtable discussion during the Conference on Epistemology held jointly with the Society meetings—tentatively announced the first expression of his incompleteness theorem.[22]

Jewish Genome

Highlight: Out of Khazaria—Evidence for “Jewish Genome” Lacking

  1. Danielle Venton*
  1. *Corresponding author: E-mail: danielle.venton@gmail.com.
  • Accepted December 20, 2012.


Hebrew language and Jewish culture have been around for thousands of years. For much of that history, the Jews managed to maintain their heritage and cultural identity in the absence of a geographical state. Wanderings, settlements, and dispersal were thus a big part of their history. Is evidence for that history preserved in genome data?

Eran Elhaik, a geneticist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, thinks so. In a recently published study in Genome Biology Evolution (Elhaik 2012), he is calling for a rewrite of commonly held assumptions about Jewish ancestry. Instead of being primarily the descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, present-day Jewish populations are, finds Elhaik, primarily the children of a Turkish people who lived in what is now Russia, north of Georgia, east of Ukraine. This civilization, the Khazars, converted from tribal religions to Judaism between the 7th and 9th centuries.

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waves and tides in Scotland

Published on Dec 13, 2012
This short film, narrated by scientist and TV presenter Heather Reid at Whitelees Windfarm, explores the opportunities for using the power of the wind, waves and tides in Scotland to produce energy.

Heather speaks to Laura Watson, an engineer with Scottish Renewables, who explains how wind and tidal turbines works and the difficulties of using these turbines including selecting the best location and under-water maintenance.

Tom Wills, an engineer from Aquamarine, explains how his company’s new Oyster technology converts wave energy into power. Storms in the Scottish sea are just one of the challenges they face.

Video and all copyright belongs to: Education Scotland

Scotland  has the ambitious goal of getting 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, and it is making amazing progress toward attaining it. Although many provinces or countries get 60% or more of their electricity from renewables, most of these depend mainly on hydro-electic. For those without riparian resources, the challenge is to implement other renewable energy generating technologies. Scotland is favorably situated to develop wind power, and is going for it in a big way.

Based on the performance of the first three quarters, Scotland was on track in 2012 to generate 15 percent more electricity from renewablesthan in the previous year (which also broke earlier records).

In 2011, Scotland was already getting 36 percent of its electricity from green energy, ahead of its target of 31 percent! In 2012 alone, renewables are estimated to have attracted $1 billion in investments. Pete Danko writes of these investments, which have produced 11,000 jobs at a time of economic retrenchment, “Maybe this is what happens if you have a national policy that encourages not just incremental but radical transitioning to renewable energy: Not only do you get clean energy, you get a lot of the manufacturing infrastructure that comes with it.”

In 2011, Scotland had generated 13.735 gigawatt hours from renewable sources (up 44.3% from 2010 and an increase of 97.3% from 2006). Unlike in Portugal, a relatively small portion– only about a gig — of that was from hydroelectric.

Scotland is planning the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

Some of the Scottish have even put in solar panels and use solar thermal to heat water. Although solar is a harder technology to profit from in overcast Scotland than wind, it can be part of the renewable mix there. The government is also now experimenting with wave energy, which could be huge for Scotland, as well as tidal energy.

The UK in general is now wavering on commitment to renewables, under the Tory government of David Cameron, and national policy may hobble Scotland’s efforts a bit. BP and other Big Carbon interests (and Donald Trump) are propagandizing against wind as ruining the beauty of the countryside, as though oil rigs do not, or as though catastrophic climate change would be better.