June 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I have to confess that while I had the chance to be there in Rio this month, I passed it up for a whole of many reasons. I could have organized a side event, my colleague told me at group meeting after we had been notified that our institute got accreditation. Accreditation is good. Being in Rio is good. Indeed the expectations are so low that some of us are choosing to stay home and keep the nose to the grindstone.
So, why is it that I believe that keeping my nose to the grindstone is more effective than getting on a jet bound to Rio de Janeiro and have a few heated and a few less passionate discussions about what this earth needs now?
It is a fair question that the two beings in my heart answer with loud voices. The egoistical being just tries to avoid getting on jets bound anywhere with the possible exception of Japan although that choice is not obvious and I am not inclined to justify it either. The other more reasoned being contends that what the world needs is action, not talk. Don’t get me wrong. It is not that we do not need to talk, we do. What is not clear is who should be talking to whom. It could be that the right people are already talking to each other, however there is little evidence that anybody is listening.
What I see happening is people, the so-called world leaders, are interested in getting re-elected or saving face. Global climate change, poverty eradication, social sustainability, disaster prevention does not really seem to be on their agendas. Syria is a slaughter house and the world do not take action, watches idly and perhaps the UN Security Council’s president is disappointed about the continued violence. Still, nothing is happening. This always reminds me of a painting, could be from one of the Brueghel and I have vague memories of seeing it in the Musée d’Orsay, where in what at first glance looks like an idyllic scene, on closed inspection there are all sorts of less than idyllic scenes that include a dog shitting, a corpse… and so it goes or else I made this all up. But do not let me digress, the Security Council with its veto power members just does not help much in the case of such slaughters as the one going on in Syria now. The Russians are comfortable with their energy reserves that give them plenty of leverage to play the bully. The Chinese have bigger fish to fry than the suffering of Syrians and are preoccupied with claiming a few minuscule but strategically located islands is the Pacific, and of course the US is in election fever. Frankly, nobody cares beyond their own little domestic concerns and everybody is free riding. That the free ride is going to end up in hell, nobody really cares to think about.
Do not take my words to be the source of all wisdom, here is another take on this very issue by people who might know a lot better than I do. Back to Earth : Nature : Nature Publishing Group: “In 1992, Nature warned against thinking that a single summit could eradicate poverty and redistribute wealth while setting specific limits on greenhouse gases. The expectations for Rio+20 are so low that almost any agreement or affirmation would qualify as a success. The fact is that politicians know what needs to be done, and countries committed to doing it 20 years ago; what is missing is political leadership and solutions that are cheap, scalable and politically viable. For the second time, the world has a chance to craft a workable agenda, but the elusive key to success lies in finding a way to overturn the widespread reluctance to make the necessary investments in time, money and intellect to get the job done.” (Via. Nature)
Why am I so pessimistic?
May 22, 2012 § Leave a Comment
”Questions of food safety, nutrition and agriculture elicit more emotion and public mistrust than almost any other science-based issue. The firestorm over obesity, for example, ignited once again in the United States last week, when the Institute of Medicine issued a report of nearly 500 pages that makes a compelling case that individual choice is not sufficient to prevent obesity in the current environment of inexpensive high-calorie foods and drinks. The report recommends that industry and government take action to get cheap healthy foods into supermarkets and schools, and that the government intervene to ensure that the right dietary messages get through the flood of advertising. The report, of course, was criticized by the industry forces that would have the most to lose if such changes were implemented.”
May 13, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This wednesday the NCCR Trade Regulation and the Centre for Development and Environment had a joint event at the Kino Kunst Museum, the screening of the film Hunger in a world of plenty, followed by a podium discussion. Last month there was a discussion on the same topic on Swiss TV (in German).
I found it worthwhile to watch the film. It is important to realize that what is wrong in terms of food security is not the lack of food on a global scale, rather the fact that we do not manage to distribute it to those in need. Still the problem is not just distribution, it is also one of capacity building and the development of sustainable agricultural practices. It is indeed mind boggling that these days there are children on our planet dying of starvation. Beyond my comprehension is the fact that every five seconds a child dies from hunger-related diseases and elsewhere on the same planet overweight and obesity are killing more people than underweight. The access to food, in part, just reflects wealth, however that is not the whole story.
April 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Visualize the past and imagine the future.
March 22, 2012 § Leave a Comment
China: Philosophers sparked good science : Nature : Nature Publishing Group: “Peng Gong misrepresents the thoughts of Chinese philosophers Confucius and Zhuang Zhou by suggesting that they hinder scientific advancement in modern China (Nature 481, 411; 2012).
Confucius encouraged curiosity and practice in teaching and learning. His thoughts are universal and timeless, and have influenced many other Asian countries — including Japan, where sound science thrives.
Zhuang advocated harmony so that we could fulfil our essential connection with nature. This view is pertinent in today’s China, where the environment and human health are being damaged by explosive and unbalanced development.
Moreover, Confucius, Zhuang and other ancient Chinese philosophers made significant advances in science, technology, medicine, mathematics, astronomy and architecture, with inventions such as paper and the compass having a large impact on civilization.”
February 29, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Imagine my surprise! I found this little essay of mine that I wrote in a rush, but with great pleasure, published with errors and all! The original draft is the version just hot off the labours of my fingertips… and without the capable labour of editors. I am reposting and correcting some of the more obvious errors that I often introduce through a combination of speed, quick thoughts, change of mind, sentence reformulation, new word, and not much dedication to perfection.
Dannie Jost: The times ahead will surprise us | Third Wave GmbH: “I should have been an astronomer, I like to think in terms of light years and orders of magnitude. In 3-5 years not much happens, just fluctuations. Still, punditry is something that everyone ought to engage with at least once in a lifetime. It was about time that I give it a try.
What are the most interesting big trends and drivers that will shape the next 3-5 years, how might they manifest, and what are the main implications?
For the next 3-5 year the big trends and drivers that will shape our existence will be the shrinking of the economy, the development of a new understanding of what sustainability is, the discovery that governance systems are failing, and the increased frequency of extreme weather events. The main implications will be a tendency to concentrate on those values, attitudes, and resources that make a difference in the quality of one’s life. There will be a mixture of the intensity of loneliness, and an increase in the value of ‘clan values’.
This does not mean that there will be no conflicts. It may even be that the conflicts between social classes – the haves and have nots – will intensify within and across national sovereignty borders. I have a bad feeling that democracy and liberalism are eroding and that human rights and obligations are good candidates for a collaborative reengineering project. I know that capitalism is broken, but thank Charles Schwab for voicing it out loud.
Imagine that the world’s governments instead of restructuring their administrations, reducing costs, getting a grip on corruption, concentrating on improving the social cohesion and infrastructure, instead of all of that, put the squeeze on the taxpayers that are already over taxed (aka as ‘the poor’) and leave the few wealthy living in overabundance and tax free. Somehow that is not a recipe for peace. Strangely enough this is the trend as we watch the world deal the so-called financial and euro crisis. I do not like the developments one bit.
The question that remains for me is whether I will remain a complaining observer, and if there will be any action that I will take to interfere with these developments.
How could the world be made more desirable over the next 3-5 years? In other words, which problems would you like your peers to tackle over the next few years, or which parameters to change?
I would like to see my peers tackle financial regulation, social equity, and produce technology that liberates instead of technology that enslaves. A lot of technology today enslaves, it does not liberate. Come to think of it, the same can be said of regulations and laws that are there to guarantee our freedoms but that over time have been highjacked in the service of few and alienate the masses. The results are not pretty. I exaggerate. Still, sometimes it looks like one large group gets the obligations, and a small minority get the rights. That is not the idea. I do not like that bit either.
Which parameters should change is not the question I would ask, it implies a deterministic approach to a deterministic world. I would invite exploration and I would include discipline in the exploration. The exploration will aid in finding the emerging temporary parameters that can be used to shape the world and create the society that we want. Techno-determinism is not the way to go. Determinism is just not the way that the Universe is built, the Universe is evolving and we are interacting with it albeit on a small scale in the grand scale of things, and in a big way in the small scope of our planet.
All our information generating capabilities only reveal the limits of our knowledge and the confines of our cognitive abilities. We are not doomed, but the roller coaster ride of evolution has barely began.
I would like to see some of my own ideas gain traction, but the ink is not even dry on some of those plans. Still, the plans are quite concrete. I am playing and exploring the ideas of monopolies and competition and their relationship to innovation and public goods. For example, the pharmaceutical industry operates with a business model derived from hard core capitalism and that model is fairly kaputt.
Thanks for the questions. These are good questions. The more I try to answer them, the more evident it is to me that I do not have a clue. The times ahead will surprise us. I will continue to search for the perfect hot chocolate mix. Hopes I have for a smart phone that is a wifi fox and has no more than ten apps. For dishes and laundry, I will rely on house help and electric appliances.”
(Via the Third Wave blog.)