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Internet Television

Lights, camera, interaction: Why video data is a crucial part of the enterprise value chain
Apr. 12, 2014 - 12:00 PM PDT Apr. 12, 2014 - 12:00 PM PDT The Netflix-Comcast truce has demonstrated once more how crucial video has become for today’s internet. YouTube alone streams enough footage each month to
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Amid social TV consolidation, Zeebox rebrands as Beamly 14 April 2014, 20.39 Internet Television
Amid social TV consolidation, Zeebox rebrands as Beamly
21 hours ago Apr. 14, 2014 - 3:00 AM PDT Social TV startup Zeebox is rebranding as Beamly, and focusing more on interactions that happen when a show isn’t airing — a departure from the focus on live second-screen activities
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A print newspaper generated by robots: Is this the future of media or just a sideshow?
13 hours ago Apr. 14, 2014 - 10:44 AM PDT What if you could pick up a printed newspaper, but instead of a handful of stories hand-picked by a secret cabal of senior editors in a dingy newsroom somewhere, it had pieces that were
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Mohu preps Channels TV tuner release after raising $145,000 on Kickstarter
20 hours ago Apr. 14, 2014 - 4:00 AM PDT Antenna maker Mohu is working on releasing its Channels TV adapter this summer after successfully completing a Kickstarter campaign that not only helped the company to raise close to
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Comcast customers get much faster Netflix streams, thanks to peering deal
12 hours ago Apr. 14, 2014 - 11:31 AM PDT The peering deal between Netflix and Comcast seems to be paying off for consumers: The average speed of Netflix streams consumed by Comcast subscribers has increased by 65 percent over
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Earth News Reports

Dick Moby’s Eco-Sunglasses Help Rid the Oceans of Plastic Pollution
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Tommy Hilfiger Adds Eyewear to Philanthropic “Millennium Promise” Line Dick Moby’s Eco-Sunglasses Help Rid the Oceans of Plastic Pollution by Helen Morgan , 04/14/14   filed under: Eco-Fashion
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Factory45: An Online Accelerator for Sustainable Fashion Businesses
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: First Fair-Trade-, Fair-Labor-Certified Clothing Arrives in the U.S. Factory45: An Online Accelerator for Sustainable Fashion Businesses by Amy DuFault , 04/14/14   filed under: Features,
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Make a Veggie-Printed Tote for Trips to the Farmers’ Market (DIY Tutorial)
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Recycle a Necktie Into a Camera Strap (DIY Tutorial) DIY Nation Make a Veggie-Printed Tote for Trips to the Farmers’ Market (DIY Tutorial) by Blair Wilson, Textile Arts Center , 04/14/14   filed
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The Awesome Reason You’ll Never See a UPS Truck Take a Left Turn in the U.S.
Share on TumblrEmail Email and text messages may have replaced snail mail, but there are some things that you just can’t send electronically. While the Internet may have killed the handwritten letter, all
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Hybrid Skylys Flying Car is an Electric Vehicle, Helicopter and Plane Rolled Into One
Share on TumblrEmail The dream of flying cars dates back to the 1960s when the animated series “The Jetsons” envisioned a future where these airborne vehicles dominate the sky. In the past few years the
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Glow-in-the-Dark ‘Smart Highways’ Replace Street Lights in the Netherlands
Share on TumblrEmail Light-absorbing glow-in-the-dark road markings have replaced standard street lighting on a 500 meter stretch of highway in The Netherlands. This project is the first stage of a concept
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WordPress news: April 6 to April 12, 2014 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
WordPress news: April 6 to April 12, 2014
WordPress has become a tool used by millions of designers for much more than creating blogs. Each week we take a look at what’s new with WordPress. For more regular news, tutorials and tricks, check out our blog about
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Whimsical lighting collection 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
Whimsical lighting collection
Ingo Maurer‘s nickname is “The poet of light”. I’m pretty sure you will understand why by taking a look at the images in this post. Via Beautiful Life. The post Whimsical lighting collection appeared
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Keeping it Consistent- Why You Need a Responsive Website Design 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
Keeping it Consistent- Why You Need a Responsive Website Design
Today’s consumers are spending more and more of their time on their mobile devices. From browsing the Internet to catching up on current events, mobile devices have become an essential part of daily life. When it comes to
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Urban fabric rugs 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
Urban fabric rugs
Urban fabrics is a series of area rugs inspired by the man made patterns inscribed upon the Earth’s surface through the development of our agriculture, infrastructure and architecture. The post Urban fabric rugs appeared
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Future News Reports

Obama's War Against US Energy Independence:  Give Away Oil Rich Alaskan Islands to Russia!
  By Joe Miller The Obama administration, despite the nation’s economic woes, effectively killed the job-producing Keystone Pipeline last month. The Arab Spring is turning the oil production of Libya and other Arab
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OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials 08 April 2012, 02.33 Administrator Energy
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials Visit http://www.osbitpower.com for further information OSBIT Power (OP), Siemens Wind Power and Statoil have successfully completed offshore
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North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost 12 January 2012, 02.01 Administrator Energy
North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost
        North America’s EV charging infrastructure may soon see significant improvements, thanks to a recent agreement between Eaton Corporation and Coulomb Technologies. Under the deal, Eaton’s Level II and
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Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source? 28 May 2011, 01.34 Administrator Energy
Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source?
      Have scientists already unknowingly discovered the source for all atomic energy reactions, and could the discovery of the gravitomagnetic field be the ultimate energy source?  What if our understandings on how
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Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation 25 September 2011, 16.27 Administrator Energy
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation
Physicists wary of junking light speed limit yet Physicist Antonio Ereditato poses before presenting the result of an experiment, which found a subatomic particle, the neutrino, seemed to move faster than the speed of
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STEORN ORBO  FREE ENERGY:  What's Next a Self Charging Unit for your Electric Car?
Steorn's Free Energy Orbo -- From Permanent Magnets to Solid State Systems   My associate, Hank Mills composed this for PESN, Saturday, February 12, 2011 6:17 Steorn is a small company based in Dublin, Ireland. For
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Cold Fusion, Releases Energy from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field 16 January 2011, 09.17 Administrator Energy
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy  from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field
Cold Fusion "In Bologna we did it" By Ilaria VENTURI, La Republica News, Bolona, Italy For the first time in Italy, in front of experts, the process was carried out using nickel and hydrogen. It 's the way to achieve
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Abu Dhabi Media Zone to generate renewable energy through its façade
Eco Factor: Sustainable development to generate renewable solar energy. Bernard Tschumi Architects have re-imagined their master plan for the new Abu Dhabi Media Zone, by incorporating several environmentally-friendly
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Scientists believe shark deterrents may not be sufficiently effective PDF Print E-mail

09 April 2014 | Environment

Nurse Shark: nice sense of smell

Sharks use all of their senses when hunting for prey, according to a study led by researchers of the Mote Marine Laboratory, University of South Florida and Boston University.

Switching sensory modalities in a hierarchical fashion as they approach their prey, and substituting alternate sensory cues, when necessary, to accomplish behavioral tasks.

"This flexibility in behavior suggests that sharks are well adapted to succeed, even in the face of a changing environment and evolutionary advancements in prey defenses, including chemical, visual, and mechanical camouflage," the study tells.

"Closer to the prey, as more sensory cues became available, the preferred sensory modalities varied among species, with vision, hydrodynamic imaging, electroreception, and touch being important for orienting to, striking at, and capturing the prey."

Capture is most dependent on electroreception to coordinate the 10–100 millisecond-scale ram-suction movements. Touch can occasionally lead to capture when electroreception is blocked.

When researchers blocked both vision and lateral line, blacktip and bonnethead sharks could not follow the odor trail to locate prey, but nurse sharks could.

When the sharks' vision was blocked, removing a key sense for aiming at prey from long distances, they could compensate by lining up their strikes, albeit at closer range, using the lateral line, which can sense water movements from struggling prey.

With electroreception blocked, sharks usually failed to capture prey. However, blacktip and nurse sharks sometimes opened their mouths at the right time if their jaws touched prey, whereas touch did not help bonnetheads.

While the results do not focus on shark-and-human interactions, they do highlight that some shark-safety measures, like specially patterned wetsuits meant to provide visual camouflage or electrical deterrents that target the sharks' electrosensory system - each focusing on one sense at a time - may not be enough to change the rates of shark incidents.

Discover the shark attack map.

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  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Earth  |  
 
The breathtaking beauty of corals PDF Print E-mail

12 April 2014 | Environment

Corals: don't buy them, protect them | Still: Daniel Stoupin

The corals and sponges were filmed under high magnification. They move very slowly, so the PhD student from the University of Queensland used the time-lapse photo technique.

The details, the colors, the patterns, the forms are part of 150,000 shots the researcher had to collect during nine months, in order to produce these incredible animated photos.

"Often I had to wait days to process a sequence to realize that I've done mistakes and had to do it over. One frame could easily take more than 10 minutes of processing time," Stoupin explains the Daily Mail.

The scientist took the pictures in tanks and "did not buy a single coral or live rock, or in any way contribute to the industry" of corals.

"Watching the marine aquarium industry from inside during the filming process made me extremely concerned about priorities of those who often claim themselves to be reef lovers."

Daniel Stoupin hopes to contribute for the preservation of the Great Barrier Reef.

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  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Earth  |  
 
DamNation: America’s Most Endangered Rivers 2014, Updated Tour Schedule & Recent Awards PDF Print E-mail

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It’s been a month since DamNation made its world premiere at SXSW in Austin, Texas. First and foremost, we would like to thank all of the people who’ve come out to see our film. Your support is greatly appreciated. Moving forward, we have a bunch of news and some important action alerts to share, so let's get to it.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers 2014

When, as a young man, DamNation co-producer Matt Stoecker witnessed migrating steelhead jump at, and bounce off, Stanford University’s Searsville Dam on San Francisquito Creek, he recognized the destructive power a single dam can have on an entire watershed and beyond. Matt is now a fish biologist, who has since spearheaded the removal of more than a dozen such barriers to migration and is actively involved in efforts to dismantle several others. When he and Patagonia founder/owner Yvon Chouinard, a long-time “dam buster” who for years has supported groups working to tear down dams, decided to capture such efforts and their healing effects on film, and share them with the world, they teamed up with Felt Soul Media’s Ben Knight and Travis Rummel, and DamNation was born.

Today, American Rivers announced their annual list of America's 10 Most Endangered Rivers and we’re happy to see San Francisquito Creek and Searsville Dam coming in at number five. San Francisquito Creek is the only nominee with a problem dam to be recognized by American Rivers this year. Making the list of most endangered rivers certainly isn’t a cause for celebration, but it’s a big deal in the river community and should bring national and local attention to the efforts that are underway to remove Searsville Dam.

[Above: Searsville Dam on San Francisquito Creek, California. Stanford releases no flows downstream for fish and wildlife and the stagnant creek dries out and becomes lethal to the threatened steelhead that are blocked at the base of the concrete wall. Photo: Matt Stoecker]

Unfortunately, it remains unclear whether Stanford University will remove their unneeded Searsville Dam and upgrade to a more reliable, sustainable and safer water system. The university is studying alternatives, including dam removal, and has promised to make a decision by the end of the year. Numerous examples throughout the country have proven that when a dam is removed, migratory fish quickly reestablish themselves above the barrier, often within weeks. Invasive species populations from the reservoirs are significantly reduced and water quality and habitat improve. Communities are made safer and the liability risk for dam owners is eliminated.

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Aerial view of Searsville Dam and reservoir. Photo: Matt Stoecker

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A pair of wild steelhead spawn below the impassable Searsville Dam in 2013. Multiple adult steelhead and their eggs died as upstream diversions and lack of access to perennial streams above the dam contributed to trapping these federally threatened fish in a dewatered creek. Watch a video of these two fish spawning. Photo: Doug Rundle

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Streams merge in the headwaters of San Francisquito Creek where open space preserves have protected much of the watershed and provide ideal habitat conditions for steelhead and other native species to return to if only Stanford University would let them. Photo: Matt Stoecker

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Running through downtown Palo Alto and Menlo Park, San Francisquito Creek harbors one of the last wild steelhead runs in the San Francisco Bay. However, Stanford's Searsville Dam blocks them from reaching critical year round streams, leaving the next generation to wonder who is responsible for the deaths of threatened steelhead in the creek. Photo: Mike Lanza


Video: San Francisquito Creek - America's Most Endangered Rivers 2014 by American Rivers

As a business member of the Beyond Searsvile Dam coalition, who is leading the charge, we urge Stanford to show leadership as environmental stewards and choose an alternative that will remove Searsville Dam, restoring this ecologically significant creek while protecting local residents from flooding and safety concerns.

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Take Action!

  1. Tell Stanford University: It’s time to remove Searsville Dam
  2. Ask President Obama to crack down on deadbeat dams
  3. See the full list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers 2014 and help protect them at American Rivers


Tour Schedule & Screenings Update

A redesigned version of DamNationFilm.com was launched recently, and with it comes a full list of upcoming screenings. Newport, Rhode Island; Missoula, Montana; Portland, Oregon and Carbondale, Colorado will round out our film festival screenings in April. Looking ahead, the film will have its theatrical release on May 9 in New York at the IFC Center, followed by a release on May 16 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle NoHo 7. The theatrical release is coupled with a nine-city tour of one-night film premieres in select markets in April and May, and a nationwide screening event at all U.S. Patagonia retail stores on June 5.

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Please check the Upcoming Screenings page for details and tickets, or apply to Host a Screening in your home town.


Vimeo On Demand

DamNation is proud to be partnering with Vimeo On Demand to bring our film to your computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone. Preorders are being accepted now for DamNation’s digital release on June 6, 2014. And if you like DamNation, you’ll want to check out the Patagonia Collection at Vimeo On Demand. Curated by Patagonia and Vimeo, this collection of online films showcases Earth’s elegance, strength and fragility.

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Visit Vimeo on Demand to see the Patagonia Collection and preorder your digital copy of DamNation.


Two Film Festivals, Two Awards for DamNation

We’re thrilled to announce that DamNation won the SXSW Film 2014 Audience Award in the Documentary Spotlight category, and the Documentary Award for Environmental Advocacy (and a $10,000 cash prize), at the 2014 Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C. The filmmakers express their gratitude to festivalgoers for the positive reception, celebrating the news as a sign that the urgent issue of dam removal is resonating and will continue to build momentum as the film tours across the country.

“Premiering DamNation at SXSW was a dream come true for Travis and I, and a dream come true for the film,” said co-director Ben Knight. “I honestly can't even wrap my head around the fact that we won the audience award yet, it feels very surreal. I could feel an energy build during the film at our screenings in Austin; our audiences were just amazing.”

“After pouring ourselves into DamNation, it is incredible to see the film resonate so deeply with our audiences,” said co-director Travis Rummel. “We’re so appreciative to Patagonia for trusting us with the creative freedom needed to bring this critical story to life.”

“The health of our rivers impacts all of us, and we have too many degraded rivers with unnecessary and obsolete dams,” said co-producer Matt Stoecker. “It’s so encouraging to see audiences connect with our film and help us build momentum to free our rivers.”

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Yvon Chouinard and DamNation filmmakers on the SXSW red carpet. Photo: Nate Ptacek

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Waiting in line for the world premiere at SXSW. Photo: Kasey Kersnowski

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Patagonia employees Ron Hunter and Brooks Scott tabled outside the Vimeo Theater at SXSW. Photo: Nate Ptacek

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Q&A session at SXSW with Nancy Schafer (moderator), Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia), Joy Howard (Patagonia), Travis Rummel (DamNation) and Jeremy Boxer (Vimeo). Photo: Nate Ptacek 

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Window detail and a peek inside Patagonia Austin. Photo: Jared Tennant

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Display inside Patagonia Austin. Photo: Kasey Kersnowski

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Party at Patagonia Austin after the world premiere screening. Photo: Jared Tennant

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DamNation filmmakers and the Patagonia Austin staff. Thanks to the entire store staff for their effort and hospitality. Photo: Nate Ptacek

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We had a packed house at the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital, productive meetings with top policymakers and government officials about our Crack Down on Deadbeat Dams petition, and we won the Environmental Advocacy Award. Washington D.C. was good to us. Photo: Ben Knight

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  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Earth  |  
 
Future Droughts Could Be Worse Than Expected PDF Print E-mail


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A new study is helping astrobiologists understand how climate change may shape the future of life on Earth.

As we approach the end of the next century, many scientists believe that we could be facing increasingly severe droughts due to changes in rainfall. The new study shows that things could be worse than originally thought.

Previous theories have predicted that changes in rainfall due to global warming could cause the Earth’s land area to experience increased drying. It turns out, however, that rainfall is just one part of the story.

“If you only account for precipitation changes in the future, we can expect increased drought on about 12% of the global land area,” said Dr. Benjamin Cook of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “If you include warming and increased evaporation in these calculations, the drying intensifies and spreads to ~30% of the global land area.”

Cook and his colleagues found that higher evaporation rates could result from a warmer climate. Evaporation would ‘wring’ water out of the soil, even in some areas that receive a decent amount of rain. And while global warming is forcing water out of the ground, it will also increase the moisture content of our planet’s atmosphere. This, too, could have global consequences.

“In the global average, evaporation is expected to increase atmospheric moisture content by about 7% per degree Celsius of warming. This is just the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship,” said Cook. “The expectation is that, at the global level, this increase in atmospheric moisture content will act to amplify greenhouse gas warming trends because water vapor is also an important greenhouse gas. Regionally, it gets more complicated because you have some areas where humidity will increase and other areas where it will decrease.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already warned that declining soil moisture is going to cause problems for agriculture in many regions of the globe. Today’s ‘Marginally wet’ areas at mid-latitudes on Earth – like the Great Plains of the United States – are expected to become arid. This increasing aridity could force ecosystem change in these regions.

“I certainly expect that we will see impacts on ecosystems and agriculture at the regional level with increased aridity,” says Cook. “You can already see this happening with some of the severe droughts in the southwest and California.”


The authors have made all the supplementary data from their study publicly available online: http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~jsmerdon/2014_clidyn_cooketal_supplement.html

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Can CO2 Removal Save the Planet? PDF Print E-mail

Holistically assessing the impact of CDR is one challenge, but research and economic questions also remain about many of the ideas. When it comes to biologically based techniques, such as growing biofuels and storing CO2 associated with its production underground, there are concerns about the amount of land that would be needed. Approaches that decrease the ocean’s acidity by adding limestone or other minerals to it so that it absorbs more CO2 would require infrastructure rivaling that employed by the coal industry. Pulling CO2 directly from the air entails a huge amount of energy.

“There are reasons to go on researching in all these areas,” says Duncan McLaren, a U.K.-based environmental consultant specializing in geoengineering, “but on balance it would seem the most sustainable option would be to look for direct air capture that could be powered through renewables.”

Many agree with him, and the notion of using chemical processes to pull CO2 from ambient air — also known as direct air capture (DAC) — has received significant attention in the past decade. The CO2 collection units could be located anywhere in the world, and manufacturing enough of the units to impact climate change is conceivable.

Within the last decade four small, private companies, most with academic scientists behind them, have attempted to commercialize DAC by trying to sell the CO2 they extract from the air, which would then be used for enhanced oil recovery, in carbonated beverages and to support growth in greenhouses, among other ideas.

While these applications don’t address climate change, they presumably allow researchers to make a profit selling CO2, which will finance further research into DAC. But so far none of the companies have moved beyond the pilot-project stage.

“Essentially, putting it in a horrible way, they’re in the valley of death,” says McLaren, referring to Silicon Valley’s term for new ideas without proven profitability. Demonstrating that a novel technology can make money typically requires funders who are willing to risk their investment — a hard breed to come by.

Technologies that remove CO2 from the air are already used in submarines and spaceflight, but commercially replicating the idea for a larger market, let alone on a scale that would impact climate change and be affordable, has yet to be accomplished.

“I deep down see this as an economics problem,” says Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Lackner first proposed CO2 removal as a response to climate change in 1999, suggesting that a particular plastic resin he and his colleagues discovered could pull CO2 from the air 1,000 times faster than a tree. Ambient air would pass through a line of collector units, each the size of a standard shipping container. Once the resin had absorbed the CO2, it would be released from the resin with water as a pure stream of CO2. It would then need to be stored underground indefinitely or turned into a salt for disposal.

“If you could make it into a salt, that would be the dream, I think, of everybody,” says Paul Falkowski, a Rutgers University biological oceanographer and member of the National Academy of Sciences group examining geoengineering. But so far aspects of changing CO2 into a carbonate — calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate (baking powder) — at a large scale have proved too difficult to overcome. 



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We Need to Promote Public Service in Government PDF Print E-mail

One of the unfortunate impacts of the conservative war on the U.S. government is a decline in the ethos of public service. Nevertheless, dedication to public service survives despite the sustained attacks that started over three decades ago under Ronald Reagan and continues in the face of the Tea Party's assaults. Its survival is a small miracle, but one I am deeply grateful for. I understand, and have some sympathy for, the attack on big, lumbering federal bureaucracies. The arrogance and idiocy of these institutions cannot and should not be denied. But instead of reforming ossified federal agencies and combatting the entrenched interests that have lobbied them into paralysis, Americans have been convinced to give up on having a functioning federal government. A sophisticated, competent government would be a real asset as we face the challenges presented by globalization and the need for environmental sustainability. Too bad we don't have one.

One of my jobs at Columbia University is to teach in SIPA, our university's global public policy school. As I advise students on career issues, most are targeting non-profit and private organizations, and only about one-third are heading toward government. Of those interested in government, fewer and fewer are applying for positions in the U.S. federal government. This is unfortunately a rational response to a deeply irrational situation.

There should be a generational shift underway in our federal government. While Baby Boomer civil servants are approaching and passing retirement age, the federal government is doing very little to recruit the top students graduating from American universities. In times past, the Presidential Management Internship Program--renamed the Presidential Management Fellowship program a few years back--played a key role in recruiting the "best and the brightest". In the past several years, this program has become a sad joke, with many highly qualified Fellows unable to secure government jobs. Writing in Government Executive Magazine this past February, Eric Katz observed that according to the Office of Personnel Management, "More than two-thirds of the 2013 finalists in the Presidential Management Fellows Program have not received jobs yet in the federal government... just 213 of 668 finalists in 2013 have received jobs so far." In the old days, finalists would weigh multiple offers from several agencies. These days, most qualified fellows receive no offers at all.

This is a program that is designed to recruit the top graduates of U.S. graduate programs and involves a lengthy and competitive selection process. Today under the pathetic leadership of the Obama Administration's Office of Personnel Management, this program is in a shameful state of collapse. Talented, eager young applicants are being deceived by a process that is only shadow of its former self. This serves to reinforce the perception that trying to work for the government in Washington is a fool's errand.

Even without OPM's mismanagement of the Fellows program, prospective public servants face a difficult road. Most American governments continue to shrink. This has been particularly true at the federal and local level since the start of the Great Recession. The short-lived federal stimulus program provided some relief, but for the most part, U.S. government continues to cut employees. According to Governing Magazine's reporting of U.S. Census data, total government employment in the United States has declined from 22,579,000 in January of 2009 to 21,851,000 in February 2014. Over the past five years, the federal government has shrunk from 2,786,000 to 2,717,000, state government dropped from 5,206,000 to 5,076,000, and local government has been reduced from 14,587,000 to 14,058,000. Total government employment is down 728,000; in the past five years the federal government lost 69,000 positions; the number of state government employees dropped by 130,000 and local government lost 529,000 employees.

As Paul Light illustrates in his important work, The True Size of Government, some of these losses are merely shifts to outsourced jobs with government contractors. This is especially true at the federal level. Unfortunately, most of the real work of government takes place at the local level where the staff cuts are real and painful. Much of the work of local government, such as picking up the garbage and teaching students in public schools, must grow in proportion to population. In 2010, there were about 308,746,000 people in the U.S. In 2013, this had grown to about 316,129,000. Particularly at the local level, population growth alone should stimulate some growth in the size of government. While technology and efficiency can improve productivity, fewer teachers will nearly always translate to larger size classes.

Despite this negative outlook, the students I teach and those who apply to our schools have a deep desire to serve the public. Writing in Governing Magazine this past October, Mike Maciag said that:

...interest in public affairs education is strong. Some might be surprised to learn it's even faring better than most other degree fields. A study published by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) last month indicates first-time graduate enrollment for "public administration and services" climbed 5 percent in 2012 and has increased 3.6 percent on average over the previous five years. That's comparable to recent growth for new engineering students. It also outpaces business degree enrollment, which rose 4 percent last year and an average of 2.8 percent over the past five years.

While graduate enrollment in computer and health sciences is growing at twice the size of public administration, it is clear that a growing number of young people are interested in a career in public service.

Even when government positions are available however, the hiring process is often a nightmare. In order to prevent corruption and patronage, government hiring processes can be incredibly formal and time-consuming. Nevertheless, many of my students continue to "ask what they can do for their country". Their sense of mission and idealism is desperately needed in Washington and many state capitals where the revolving door of money and influence has replaced public service with "pay for play".

American governments, like our private and nonprofit organizations, are under enormous pressure to become more effective and efficient. In a global economy, the cost of government is part of the cost of doing business in any given location. While some companies are more mobile than others, many can easily move and will do so to gain a cost advantage over their competitors. When governments fail to recruit talented, well-trained recent recipients of graduate degrees, they impair their ability to improve and keep up with demands for improved government performance.

The work that government does is important and can make a real difference in a community's quality of life. Recently, The Wall Street Journal's Keith Williams wrote a brief "signs of spring" piece about New York City Parks manager Gus Menocal and his colleagues. Williams observed that:

Each year, Mr. Menocal and his team of six plumbers spend the period between St. Patrick's Day and Memorial Day reviving the fountains and other waterworks in all of the municipal parks in the borough of Queens. They and the rest of the 33 handymen in the department's technical services division fan across the city each spring to turn on mains serving restrooms, misting stations, heating systems and 3,100 drinking fountains. (They then reverse course starting around Columbus Day each year, winterizing the entire network.)

A simple, but important routine function of government that, once completed, immediately improves the quality of life for joggers, children, and park visitors of many ages, and even species ("say thanks for the drink, Fido"). Most of us do not have the resources or desire to live in gated communities. Our best communities are open, diverse, complex and supported by public services. The people who manage and operate those public services are public servants. In my view, they should be nurtured, trained, motivated and encouraged.



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Report: One fifth of trucks on Europe's roads travel empty PDF Print E-mail

One fifth of trucks travelling around Europe are carrying nothing, according to a major new EU report that recommends making it easier for hauliers to work across European borders.

Vice-President of the European Commission Siim Kallas responsible for transport, yesterday unveiled the new report, which argued that opening national road transport markets to more competition would reduce the need for empty runs and increase fuel efficiency across the bloc's giant haulage fleet.

The study found that 20 per cent of all truck journeys in the EU are run empty, wasting fuel and pushing up carbon emissions and air pollution. Moreover, the proportion of empty trucks on some member states' roads rises to 25 per cent.

Logisitics firms are keen to avoid the cost of running empty trucks, but the report lays part of the blame for the problem at the door of national chargers that can make it costly for haulage companies to operate in member states other than their own.

Kallas' study showed that removing cross border restrictions would make it easier for hauliers to combine loads and use return trips for carrying goods rather than running on empty.

"The current rules are wasteful for European companies, impact on all road users and are bad for the environment," he said.

"We need clear regulations for the industry and at the same time we need good working conditions for the drivers. I hope the next Commission will continue down this road."

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Averting Disastrous Climate Change Could Depend Unproven Technologies PDF Print E-mail

A U.N. climate report says we’ll overshoot greenhouse gas targets, and will need new technologies to make up for it.

Carbon conundrum: One way to decrease the amount of carbon in the atmosphere would be to reverse the kind of deforestation shown here in Victoria, Australia.

A U.N. climate report released on Sunday concludes that there may still be time to limit global warming to an increase of two degrees Celsius or less, which could help the world avoid the worst effects of climate change. But doing so will depend on making extraordinary changes to energy infrastructure at a much faster pace than is happening now, and may require the use of controversial and unproven technologies for pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

The new report, to be released in full tomorrow, is the third in a series issued in the last year by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The first of these three reports looked at evidence for climate change, while the second investigated the effects of climate change and options for adapting to it. The new report considers options for preventing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Together, the three IPCC reports constitute the group’s fifth climate assessment, synthesizing tens of thousands of scientific studies to guide government policy makers on climate change.

The new report is mostly concerned with the extent and pace of greenhouse gas emissions and what it will take to reduce those emissions to limit climate change. But its conclusions are partly based on the premise that it will be possible to extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere—a technology that has yet to be proven on any practical scale.

“There’s a whole suite of technologies that are fun to talk about, but nothing’s ready for prime time,” says David Victor, professor of international relations and director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California at San Diego.

Scientists generally agree that avoiding the worst of climate change will require stabilizing levels of key greenhouse gases below 450 parts per million (greenhouse gas levels, including carbon dioxide and other gases such as methane, are already at 430 parts per million). But even with aggressive measures to reduce emissions—investing in energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear power plants, and technology to capture carbon dioxide from fossil fuel power plants—the world is likely to shoot past that amount. As a result, limiting warming to two degrees Celsius might require actually removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, to bring levels back down to 450 parts per million.

At this point, it’s clear that climate change can’t be prevented entirely. It has already had an impact on sea levels, ocean acidification, and many ecosystems (see “Why We Can’t Just Adapt to Climate Change”). And the new IPCC report concludes that emissions of greenhouse gases have increased faster in the last 10 years than in the three previous decades. The report says the worst effects of climate change may be avoided with substantial investment in technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the report also mentions three ways to take carbon dioxide out of the air, and all are problematic. The first is increasing the number of trees on the planet to absorb more carbon dioxide, but this requires reversing a long trend of deforestation.

The second is an approach called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. This involves growing trees and other biomass, burning it to generate electricity, and then capturing the carbon dioxide this releases and storing it underground. In theory, this could reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. But the scale of this approach could be limited in practice; it may be hard to generate large amounts of electricity using trees without causing major deforestation. And carbon capture and sequestration technology has not been proven at a large scale (see “What Carbon Capture Can’t Do” and “Capturing and Storing Carbon Dioxide in One Easy Step”). The report acknowledges that this approach is risky. “My own view is that BECCS is a fantasy,” says Victor. “It’s something the modeling community came up with because it allows the models to solve seemingly unsolvable problems.”

Finally, the report also refers to other “carbon dioxide removal” technologies—experimental approaches that use various materials to absorb carbon dioxide. Because carbon dioxide occurs in very low concentrations in the atmosphere (only a few hundred parts per million) capturing it usually takes a lot of energy. As a result it will likely be costly. “It’s a lot cheaper to prevent emissions than to try to remove them later,” says Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at the MIT Energy Initiative.

Even if all greenhouse gas emissions were stopped today, the gases that have already accumulated likely will cause more warming for decades until the world’s climate settles into a new equilibrium. The fact that carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere, and elevated levels can persist for hundreds of years, means that actions taken now will have long-lasting effects.

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Don’t lose sight of the people behind big data PDF Print E-mail

In the wrong hands, large datasets can do more harm than good, says Sanjana Hattotuwa. Accountability is crucial.

The policeman who came to see me was affable and just following instructions. It was 2009, near the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal 27-year-old civil war, though nobody knew at the time.

He asked me to enter my personal details on a website called citizens.lk, set up by the all-powerful Ministry of Defence (MoD). I asked him politely what law required me to enter my data into the system. He didn’t know. I told him to go ask his superiors. He never returned.

Citizens.lk was ostensibly set up to register all “permanent and temporary residents of Sri Lanka” and “ensure the safety and security of the entire island”. As its sole custodian, the MoD could use the information as it saw fit, with minimal oversight.

Governing information from a human rights perspective — tackling privacy concerns, usage rights, access, and monetisation of personal data — remains, as yet, alien to official big data discourses in Sri Lanka and in other countries with a democratic deficit.

Digital ‘checkpoints’ 

Sri Lanka’s move was perhaps desirable from the perspective of intelligence operations aiming to thwart terrorism. The MoD was explicit about the data’s intended use — it was to monitor people. [1]

But the palpable danger was that data collected — name, address, ethnicity, national ID number, passport number, driving licence number, gender, date of birth — would spawn a far wider, more sophisticated, intrusive and enduring surveillance architecture to clamp down on dissent and suppress democratic governance.

At the time, the MoD was widely feared for silencing independent media, often violently and with complete impunity, and for sponsoring hate speech against leading human rights activists. Citizens.lk was a thinly veiled state enterprise collecting data to contain, control and censor inconvenient truths — what one leading blogger called the “logical extension of checkpoints into digital space”. [2] 

Once harvested, information in these big, official datasets is completely within government control. There is no enabling legislation on rights to information — so individuals become mere numeric targets for government. They have little or no power to interrogate their own records, or how they are used. 


Questionable benefit

Five years after the end of the war, citizens.lk, though still online, lies forgotten. And yet, in late 2013, the government’s Information and Telecommunication Agency proposed a Unique ID System (UID) for Sri Lanka — “a highly secured electronic authentication” system claimed to address “forging and duplication” of national identity cards. [3]

The language suggests validation, authentication, enrolment and registration. But given the present government’s suspect democratic credentials, the information collected is at risk of abuse by official policies and practices that further marginalise or discriminate against specific individuals, identity groups and communities.
A recent World Economic Forum report on Big Data flags the pivotal importance of enabling people to control their own information, reflecting a widespread concern over generating big data in an illiberal context. [4] 

The reality is that aggregate data will inform more granular, smaller scale decisions. Big data, in other words, will increasingly affect ‘small lives’, and the assumption that those already vulnerable in society stand to benefit from more data online needs to be questioned.

Digital dilemma

My primary concern stems from poor transparency and accountability. A concern over governments’ enhanced capability to infer patterns and behaviours by combining large sets of information given voluntarily by people, as well as over how private enterprises, like telecommunications companies, use such data.

In mature democracies, big data can be immensely helpful in driving greater accountability, transparency and service delivery when combined with other information often in the public domain — such as demographic data and geo-located crime statistics. But in a country like Sri Lanka it can lead to a far more restrictive, censorious and pervasive monitoring of movements, transactions and communications.

And there’s the difficult dilemma. Post-war, Sri Lanka urgently needs to exploit big data to become more people-centric and responsive by transforming its antiquated governance mechanisms. However, any such initiative will fall in the shadow of the MoD and other intelligence arms of government.

Faces behind the data  

I keep wondering about the policeman who came to see me. Did he understand the implications of his request? Did he try to resist his superiors himself? How, if at all, did he reconcile his role as a policeman with his rights as a citizen?

These questions pose a central challenge for civil society in post-war Sri Lanka and similar settings: to convince fellow citizens that data in the public domain can strengthen democracy post-war — but also alert them to the fact that no matter how benevolent data systems seem, any platform that hordes information without meaningful accountability or oversight endangers peace and courts violent conflict.

Simple measures can help meet that challenge. Compelling data driven journalism initiatives that use big data to interrogate social and political issues can help flag trends and patterns around governance.  And civil society can use big data to strengthen its own research and advocacy, without relying on anecdotal evidence alone. 

Civic education, for one, can alert people to both the benefits and dangers of big data. Global institutions like the UN have a role in this, and through big data they could even improve their effectiveness.

Importantly, these conversations need to put a human face to big data — to treat the datasets not as de-personalised information seen in the aggregate but as vast collections of individuals, who all have rights. If we lose sight of this, big data risks becoming a tool of and for the worst of us, when it should give life to and strengthen a more democratic future.

Sanjana Hattotuwa is a Sri Lankan human rights activist, TED fellow and founder of Groundviews, a citizen-journalism initiative. He can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or via @groundviews.

This article is part of the Spotlight on Data for development.

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