Thinking Ahead's blog

New Virus More Deadly Than SARS

The too-smart city

The smart city has become a buzzword in urban planning and university engineering departments, and a topic of breathless coverage in science and business magazines. Although today the vision exists more in the realm of promise than reality, cities such as Boston have begun to invest time and chunks of their budget to laying the groundwork.

Privacy for the Other 5 Billion

This vigorous adoption of technologies for collecting, processing, tracking, profiling, and managing personal data—in short, surveillance technologies—risks centralizing an increasing amount of power in the hands of government authorities, often in places where democratic safeguards and civil society watchdogs are limited. While these initiatives may be justified in certain cases, rarely are they subject to a rigorous assessment of their effects on civil liberties or political dissent. On the contrary, they often seek to exploit the lack of scrutiny: Nilekani recommended in another recent speech that biometric proponents work “quickly and quietly” before opposition can form. The sensitivity of the information gathered in aid programs is not lost on intelligence agencies: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mark Mazzetti recently revealed that the Pentagon funded a food aid program in Somalia for the express purpose of gathering details on the local population. Even legitimate aid programs now maintain massive databases of personal information, from household names and locations to biometric information.  

[From Privacy for the Other 5 Billion]

Drones Over America

Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere at 400 PPM for First Time in Human History

In 1958, when scientists began measuring average carbon dioxide levels at an observatory on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, that figure was around 320 ppm. This week, for the first time, the sensors at Mauna Loa have measured a daily average of more than 400 ppm. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high, Australopithecus was sharing the earth with mammoths and saber-tooth tigers.

Before the industrial revolution, the proportion of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere hovered around 280 parts per million. In 1958, when scientists began measuring average carbon dioxide levels at an observatory on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, that figure was around 320 ppm. This week, for the first time, the sensors at Mauna Loa have measured a daily average of more than 400 ppm. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high, Australopithecus was sharing the earth with mammoths and saber-tooth tigers.

[From Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere Hits 400 PPM for First Time in Human History]

Adapt or Die? Private Utilities and the Distributed Energy Juggernaut : Greentech Media

adaptORdie.jpg

Faced with the prospect of having their revenue streams from generation, transmission and distribution slowly leak away as more distributed renewable power joins the grid, it appears most of the IOUs would rather fight than switch.

PG&E, one of two California IOU monopolies, has a long record of fighting this trend even as it touts itself as a progressive utility. As I detailed in 2010, when Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) entities began to appear in response to residents' demands for more renewable power than their utilities would offer, PG&E fought them vigorously. First it sponsored a public relations campaign under the guise of a “Common Sense Coalition.” When that failed, it put $35 million into a ballot proposition disguised as an appeal to protect the voters’ "right to choose." The proposition would have foreclosed on the possibility of any further CCAs being created in the state, and prevented the one CCA that did exist from expanding its service area. It also failed.

[From Adapt or Die? Private Utilities and the Distributed Energy Juggernaut : Greentech Media]

The Golden Age of Privacy Is Over

Domestic deployment of drones is causing substantial concern, especially regarding the implications for privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, fears that “routine aerial surveillance would profoundly change the character of public life in America” and demands rules and regulations so that we can avoid “a ‘surveillance society’ in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government.” Glenn Greenwald warns about the arrival of the “Surveillance State,” and somewhat dramatically suggests drones will “psychologically terrorize the population.”

From The Golden Age of Privacy Is Over

The Elephants in the Room: Citizens United, Trade and Corporate Ownership of Our Natural Resources

How has consolidation enabled Monsanto, Tyson, Nestle, Kraft, Cargill, McDonalds and other food/ag/chemical companies to write our food policy, and why is about to get worse? The disastrous decision in the landmark Citizens United case now allows corporations to spend unlimited sums of money to buy the political system.

...[From The Elephants in the Room: Citizens United, Trade and Corporate Ownership of Our Natural Resources ]

How Resource Scarcity and Climate Change Could Produce a Global Explosion

Two nightmare scenarios — a global scarcity of vital resources and the onset of extreme climate change — are already beginning to converge and in the coming decades are likely to produce a tidal wave of unrest, rebellion, competition, and conflict. Just what this tsunami of disaster will look like may, as yet, be hard to discern, but experts warn of “water wars” over contested river systems, global food riots sparked by soaring prices for life’s basics, mass migrations of climate refugees (with resulting anti-migrant violence), and the breakdown of social order or the collapse of states. At first, such mayhem is likely to arise largely in Africa, Central Asia, and other areas of the underdeveloped South, but in time all regions of the planet will be affected.

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