27 Sep

Progress in GP

Our world is more interdependent than ever. Borders have become more like nets than walls, and while this means that wealth, ideas, information and talent can move freely around the globe, so can the negative forces shaping our shared fates. The financial crisis that started in the U.S. and swept the globe was further proof that–for better and for worse–we can’t escape one another.

There are three big challenges with our interdependent world: inequality, instability and unsustainability. The fact that half the world’s people live on less than $2 a day and a billion people on less than $1 a day is stark evidence of inequality, which is increasing in many places. We’re feeling the effects of instability not only in the global economic slowdown but also in the violence, popular disruptions and political conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere. And the way we produce and use energy is…

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26 Sep

Gee Pee Land

The phrase ‘begging the question’ is often used incorrectly in the media or in common utterance. What people often mean when they use the phrase ‘begs the question’ is ‘raises the question’. E.g. Given how obesity rates have been climbing despite the soda ban, this raises the question about the effectiveness of the law. 

‘Begging the question’ is actually a logical fallacy, a form of circular reasoning where basically the premise and conclusion are the same. Consider the video below:

Why did you find it funny or incredulous? Because the teacher’s conclusion (‘drugs are bad’) is the same as the premise (‘because they are bad for you’).

Have you ever heard your friends sometimes remark – often without having thought it through – how someone is good looking because they were handsome/pretty? Or how violent video games are harmful because they contained violence? Or how sometimes choices are presented in a…

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Thurston Howell Romney -The New York Times

24 Sep
By
Published: September 17, 2012

In 1980, about 30 percent of Americans received some form of government benefits. Today, as Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out, about 49 percent do.

In 1960, government transfers to individuals totaled $24 billion. By 2010, that total was 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown by more than 700 percent over the last 50 years. This spending surge, Eberstadt notes, has increased faster under Republican administrations than Democratic ones.       

There are sensible conclusions to be drawn from these facts. You could say that the entitlement state is growing at an unsustainable rate and will bankrupt the country. You could also say that America is spending way too much on health care for the elderly and way too little on young families and investments in the future.       

But these are not the sensible arguments that Mitt Romney made at a fund-raiser earlier this year. Romney, who criticizes President Obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups: the makers and the moochers. Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”       

This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?       

It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.       

It says that Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture. Americans haven’t become childlike worshipers of big government. On the contrary, trust in government has declined. The number of people who think government spending promotes social mobility has fallen.       

The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor.       

Romney’s comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact. In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that.       

The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.       

The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency.       

But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills.       

People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear.       

Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I’d put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.       

Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?       

Frank Bruni is off today.

Is biofuels better than fossil fuels?

18 Sep

This is extracted from IDEA:

Biofuels help achieve energy independence

Point

The reliance of America and its western allies on conventional fossil fuels, chiefly oil, is a major security issue. Currently 22% of US oil comes from the Middle East, 22% from Africa, and 19% from Latin America1.The past actions of OPEC and the recent willingness of Russia to use its  supplies of natural gas to threaten European states both point to a need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels2. Oil prices often rise due to instability in the regions where it is produced, which has harmful impacts for consumers around the world. For example, in 2011 the invasion in Libya caused oil prices to rise because of fear of reduced oil production in the region The US and its allies lose leverage over many international actors as its hands are tied due to dependence on oil, as is the case with nuclear proliferation in Iran for example. The US Department of Agriculture determined that the US could produce enough biomass to meet 30% of its energy needs, which in addition to other forms of alternative energy could make a significant impact on oil consumption. Increasing the use of biofuels can therefore contribute to our security by ensuring that more of our energy needs are met from within the country, reducing dependence on foreign suppliers.

1 http://lugar.senate.gov/energy/graphs/oilimport.html 2http://money.cnn.com/2009/01/07/news/international/russia_ukraine/index.htm

Counterpoint

Attempting complete independence from other countries is impossible and undesirable – the world is now too interconnected and interdependent. Prosperity rests upon being able to trade goods and services widely with people in other countries and attempts to retreat from this free market will impoverish us as well as them. Nor are the USA and its western allies scarily dependent upon just one source for their fossil fuel needs – new countries like Angola and Canada have all become major energy suppliers in the past decade[1]. In any case, America’s demand for energy is so great that there is no possibility of achieving energy independence through biofuels. F all of America’s corn was used to produce ethanol, it would still only meet 4% of energy demand[2].

[1]http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/kunzig-text

[2] http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/06/biofuels

Biofuels are renewable and sustainable in the future.

Point

At present mankind is using up fossil fuel resources at an alarming rate, and often damaging the environment in order to extract them. If we go on relying on fossil fuels they will one day run out, and not only will our descendants no longer have viable energy reserves, but they will also have to cope with the ecological damage coal, oil and gas extraction have inflicted on the earth. Making fuel from crops provides a perfect, sustainable solution. Additionally, biofuels can be mixed with fossil fuels, and eventually replace them, without having to entirely change the infrastructure of countries. Other forms of alternative energy would call for new investment and development just to use them, whereas biofuels can slowly be introduced to cars in higher quantities, and gradually new cars will be designed to run entirely on biofuels. However, overturning the entire system would not be necessary, reducing the cost associated with using biofuels. Biofuels already have a great deal to offer today, but prospects for the future are even more exciting and deserve our support. New crops like Jatropha promise to produce much more energy from a given amount of land1. They also flourish without annual replanting or chemical inputs on marginal land. In the longer term, bio-engineers are working on producing “cellulosic” biofuels biofuels – in which the stems and leaves of plants or trees are used to produce ethanol, not just the fruits or seeds. Cellulosic biofuels would allow much more fuel to be produced from a given amount of land, and could also be made from the waste products of food or timber production, such as straw and woodchip 1. The future prospects for ethanol are great, and thus call for increased investment and development because only then will ethanol truly be a viable alternative.

1. http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=biofuel_home-basics

 

Counterpoint

For biofuels to be renewable and sustainable, they will have to be grown in mass quantities. Rainforests and grass lands, which naturally soak up carbon, will need to be cut down, ultimately making ethanol that much more environmentally irresponsible. While they may be renewable, the quantity that would have to be grown makes it an unreasonable solution.

 

Biofuels are better for the environment.

Point

Biofuels are the best way of reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for global climate change. As with fossil fuels, burning biodiesel or ethanol to drive an engine or generate electricity releases carbon into the atmosphere. Unlike with fossil fuels, however, growing the plants from which biofuels are made takes carbon from the air, so overall the process is carbon neutral1. This means policies to increase the use of biofuels could greatly reduce overall levels of carbon emissions, and so be a major part of tackling global climate change. Since the international community has made reducing climate change a priority, with different climate conferences like Copenhagen, seeking energy alternatives should be at the forefront of their efforts. Biofuels can also help improve local air quality as mixing ethanol with fossil fuels helps meet clean air standards, and overall be one of the tools used to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

1 http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=biofuel_home-basics

Counterpoint

The idea that ethanol is carbon neutral is overlooking the carbon emissions associated with growing the crops (energy for the machines) as well as transporting them to and from the processing facilities. Ethanol production consumes 6 units of energy to produce 11. In no world is that efficient or better for the environment.

1 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050329132436.htm

Plastic Logic Reader; technology for the future?

18 Sep

Well, maybe in the near future (about a few years later?). This technology is developed by Plastic Logic and has marked a possible revolution of traditional print media. They are improving this technology (the pictures in the reader is initially black and white and now it is coloured) and through mass production, this technology might be affordable and go mainstream. This reader is much lighter than the current eReader and is flexible (you can bend it), for now it can show pictures and some information on its screen and its function will be more sophisticated and advanced in the future. The reader have a high possibility to overtake traditional newspaper as people will not have to buy newspaper everyday as the latest news will be updated on the reader itself and it is lighter than newspaper and is easy to carry around. This video below shows a demo of the reader and i believe the reader was in its initial development:

 

 

and now the screen on the reader is coloured and more flexible.

 

 

Be prepared to see more of such developments in the future

 

The ‘Environment’ Question…

17 Sep

Gee Pee Land

Aside from technology questions, many have also expressed a desire to try the ‘environment’ question. I’m no expert on it, but I would like to remind you to please keep your essays argumentative and focus on addressing the issue instead of abusing the question as an opportunity to regurgitate your geographical knowledge. You would need to think about the various players involved (i.e. supra-national bodies, governments, companies, NGOS, consumers, farmers and so on), modern trends/contexts (capitalism, modern consumerism, ethical consumerism, green movements, globalization and spread of ideas, trade and long-distance transport, hydro-politics, developed/developing/emerging economics) and focus on debates surrounding key issues like food and water security, climate change, renewable energy, corporate social responsibility, greenwashing etc. If all you can mention in an environment essay are catalytic convertors and the Kyoto Protocol, then I suggest you avoid the environment question.

Some key resources or sites that may aid your last minute revision:

– The CJC lecture

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Why population hysteria is more damaging than it seems

17 Sep

Vanessa Baird

guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 October 2011 15.36 BST

Seven billion is a big number. It doesn’t seem quite so big, however, if you think that 7 billion of us could fit into the state of Texas and live there with a population density enjoyed by the residents of New York City.

But a major concern is the impact yet more humans will have on the health of the planet – and it’s for this reason that population anxiety has become a concern for people already worried about climate change and resource scarcity.

The United Nations, in its latest revision is projecting 9 billion by 2050 – and even 10 billion by 2100 – before world population stabilises and starts to decline. That’s the “medium fertility variant” projection – it would be 8 billion by 2050 declining to 6 billion by 2100 if you used the low fertility variant, and up to 16 billion if you used a high one. Which should serve as a bit of a warning about the nature of projections.

Much hangs on the question of the “total fertility rate” – or the number of children a woman has on average during her lifetime.

What the more alarmist news reports often fail to mention is that since the 1970s fertility has been declining in almost all nations and that once the trend to smaller family size begins it is hard to reverse – as policy makers in Japan, Korea and Italy have found.

Today, according to the UN’s population division, 42% of the world’s population lives in countries with fertility at below replacement level. Another 40% are in intermediate fertility countries, where people are replacing themselves. And the remaining 18% are living in countries with high fertility, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, where women may be having five or more children on average.

The places with largest family size are the poorest, where per capita consumption and energy use is low. The places where families are smallest are some of the richest, with high consumption and energy use, such as Japan and much of Europe.

And this is where an almighty hole appears in the argument of those who suggest that if we care about climate change we should worry about women having lots of children in the countries with high fertility rates.

Although low-income countries were responsible for more than 52% of population growth between 1980 and 2005, they were responsible for only 12.8% of the growth in global carbon emissions, according to David Satterthwaite, director of London’s International Institute of Environment and Development. High-income nations, meanwhile, provided only 7% of population growth but 29% of growth in emissions.

The reason is simple: so unequal are global consumption levels that one European or North American may be responsible for more emissions than an entire village of Africans.

So how about people in rich countries with high consumption, high pollution, habits doing the decent thing and abstaining from having children? That’s what some, including the radical US-based Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, are advocating. But even that would not be enough to get us out of trouble.

Researchers at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research at Boulder, Colorado have found that if population were to reach, say, 7.4 billion in 2050 instead of 9 billion, it would reduce emissions by 15% – not nearly enough to meet the most modest current targets advocated by the G8 of between 50 and 80% reductions by 2050.

But surely, any reduction in population growth is better for the environment than none?

Population is certainly a multiplier, but that does not make it the cause of the problem. As the Australian writer Simon Butler puts it: “People are not pollution. Blaming too many people for driving climate change is like blaming too many trees for causing bushfires.”

The real cause of climate change is an economy locked into burning fossil fuels for energy. Massive fossil fuel use in industrialised countries cannot be countered by handing out condoms.

The excessive focus on population is a dangerous distraction from the core problem, which is not how many of us there are but how we use the planet and share its resources.

There’s no dodging it. We need an energy revolution – away from fossil fuels and towards renewables and energy conservation – which is as radical and more rapid than the industrial revolution that laid the basis for our carbon economies. And we need it regardless of how big the population gets.

So, instead of a fanfare of orchestrated fear and panic, let us welcome baby 7 billion with a resolution to tackle the real issues facing humanity – climate change, inequality and poverty – and stop obsessing about human numbers.

• Vanessa Baird is the author of The No-Nonsense Guide to World Population, recently published by New Internationalist

 

Facts and figures

• Fertility is declining. The global average is now 2.5 children per woman. In the developing world the rate fell from six children to about three between 1950 and 2000. (Source: UN population division)

• Between 2010 and 2050, 45 countries are expected to decrease in population size. China’s population should start shrinking in 2023. (Source: UN population division)

• The CO2 emissions of the average US citizen are 19.9 tonnes per year, and of the average African citizen 1.2 tonnes per year. (Source: IEA, 2009)

• Industrialized countries with 20% of the world’s population are responsible for 80% of the accumulated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

• The world is already growing enough grain to feed a population of 10 billion on a vegetarian diet. (Source: Fred Pearce, Peoplequake, 2010)

• Of the 2bn tonnes of grain grown in the world in 2008, under half was eaten directly by people. (Source: Fred Pearce, Peoplequake, 2010)

• Americans throw away 50% of the food they buy, and Britons 30%. Farmers grow 25% more than needed to meet the aesthetic standards of supermarkets. In economically booming India, large amounts of food rots in warehouses and gets thrown away while the poor go hungry because they cannot afford to buy it. (Source: Tristram Stuart, Waste, 2009.)

• Land sold to speculators increased from 4 million hectares in 2006 to 60 million (the  size of France) in 2009