[rNASA Invites Media to Watch Drone Traffic Management Testing NASA is entering the final stage of testing its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) platform and invites media to learn more and watch drone demonstrations Tuesday, May 21, in Reno, Nevada. Source: Eurogamer. http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-invites-media-to-watch-drone-traffic-management-testing
Cyber attacks are rewriting the ‘rules’ of modern warfare – and we aren’t prepared for the consequences
Governments are becoming ever more reliant on digital technology, making them more vulnerable to cyber attacks. In 2007, Estonia was attacked by pro-Russian hackers who crippled government servers, causing havoc. Cyber attacks in Ukraine targeted the country’s electricity grid, while Iran’s nuclear power plants were infected by malware that could have led to a nuclear meltdown.
In the US, president Trump recently declared a “national emergency” to recognise the threat to US computer networks from “foreign adversaries”.
Politically-motivated cyber attacks are becoming increasingly commonplace but unlike traditional warfare between two or more states, cyberwarfare can be launched by groups of individuals. On occasion, the state is actually caught in the crosshairs of competing hacking groups.
This doesn’t mean that states don’t actively prepare for such attacks. British defence officials have said they’re prepared to conduct cyber attacks against Moscow’s power grid, should Russia decide to launch an offensive
In most cases, cyberwarfare operations have been conducted in the background, designed as scare tactics or displays of power. But the blending of traditional warfare and cyberwarfare seems inevitable and a recent incident added a new dimension.
How to respond to cyber attacks
Israeli Defence Forces bombed a building allegedly housing Hamas hackers, after they had attempted to, according to the IDF, attack “Israeli targets” online. This is the first time a cyber attack has been met with physical force by a state’s military. But who is to blame and how should states respond when defending against cyber attacks?
Cyber attacks are a serious challenge for established laws of armed conflict. Determining the origin of an attack isn’t impossible, but the process can take weeks. Even when the origin can be confirmed, it may be difficult to establish that a state was responsible. This is especially true when cyber operations could be perpetrated by hackers in other countries routing their attacks through different jurisdictions.
NATO experts have highlighted the issue in the Tallinn Manual on International Law Applicable to Cyberwarfare. There is no consensus on whether a state is responsible for a cyber attack originating from its networks if it did not have explicit knowledge of the attack. Failure to take appropriate measures to prevent an attack by a host state could mean that the victim state is entitled to respond through proportionate use of force in self defence. But if there’s uncertainty around who is to blame for the attack, any justification for a counter-attack is diminished.
Even if the problem of attribution is resolved, a state’s right to respond with force to a cyber attack would normally be prohibited. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter protects the territorial integrity and political structures of states from attack. This can be lawfully bypassed if a state can claim they’re defending themselves against an “armed attack”.
The International Court of Justice explains that:
It will be necessary to distinguish between the most grave forms of the use of force (those constituting an armed attack) from other less grave forms.
So a cyber-attack would justify force as self-defence if it could be considered an “armed attack”. But is that possible? Only when the “scale” and “effect” of a cyber-attack are comparable to an offline “armed attack”, such as attacks that lead to deaths and widespread damage to infrastructure. If so, self-defence is justified.
But what about when a cyber attack has been successfully defended against? Then, its effects can only be guessed at. This makes deciding a proportional response even trickier. Physical force used as self-defence after the cyber attack has already been successfully defended against could be considered unnecessary and therefore, illegal. An exception, however, might be made for a preemptive defence against an imminent or possible attack.
When self-defence is considered reasonably necessary, the nature of the force permitted can vary. Proportionate counter-attacks with conventional military weapons can be acceptable responses to cyber operations under international law.
These issues are only the start of the challenges posed by cyberwarfare, which will get more complicated as technology develops. The intellectual challenges this will generate are numerous, but we still can’t help but be fearful.
Societies face potentially devastating consequences from cyberwarfare as we become more reliant on information technologies and communication networks for everyday life – and we’re only just starting to ask questions about it.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Source: The Conversation: Technology http://theconversation.com/cyber-attacks-are-rewriting-the-rules-of-modern-warfare-and-we-arent-prepared-for-the-consequences-117043
How to break our bad online security habits – with a flashing cyber nudge
The potential risks of such attacks are vast and can have a serious impact on both organisations and individuals. But protecting ourselves against cyber security threats can be extremely complicated.
Not only is the technology we use on a daily basis getting more complex, but attackers are constantly finding new ways to bypass security measures.
Yet staying up to date with safety measures and new devices is not always practical. Many people are exhausted and turned off by seemingly endless reports of data breaches in the news – an effect referred to as “privacy fatigue”.
They can become weary of installing software updates, updating privacy settings or changing passwords – or simply fear that such precautions are pointless.
Efforts to combat this within organisations often involves providing members of employees with relevant training sessions. But such training can quickly become obsolete, or simply forgotten.
Workers also tend to be busy. When people are trying to complete other tasks, they might not remember to stay secure, particularly when doing so makes their job more difficult or time consuming.
Research has shown that when computers were fitted with proximity sensors (which automatically log users out when they move away from the machine) users began placing cups over the sensors to disable them.
The intention had been to improve security, but in practice created what felt like a disproportionate burden for the user – in this case, having to repeatedly log back in, even after only briefly moving away from their work station.
Cyber security threats often take advantage of this reality. Phishing emails, for instance, frequently convey a degree of urgency or time pressure. This can result in a greater risk of clicking on a malicious link and giving away personal or private information. The busier someone is, the more likely they are to act without thinking.
When people are too busy and too distracted to act securely, one way of resolving this may be to exploit their “automatic processes” – their habits, or actions they take without really thinking.
If people can be successfully “nudged” in this way, they could end up becoming substantially more resistant to cyber attacks. Research into people’s habits has highlighted that “contextual cues” (events, physical items) can help to prompt particular behaviours.
Gadgets like activity trackers use similar cues – such as vibrating when the user has been stationary for too long – to try and increase activity levels.
Prompts that attempt to encourage cyber security behaviours in a similar way are common. But these approaches often fail because people will typically cancel, ignore or work around such alerts, particularly if they interrupt another task. When people are working on a computer, they find pop-up boxes or notifications frustrating and often click “yes” or “okay” without thinking about it.
Read more: New chip to aid disease screening
Instead, using devices external to the computer (but on the desk) can allow reminders to stay in someone’s periphery, and possibly increase the chances they will act on them. Using soft lights provides an opportunity to try and change people’s behaviour in ways that are less “aggressive” or annoying.
Seeing the light
The Adafruit Circuit Playground is a small electronic piece of kit which can be programmed to display different coloured lights in different configurations or patterns. The idea is that it will sit next to someone’s computer and the lights will subtly nudge the user to lock their computer screen (if they forget to) as they leave their desk.
It can be connected to a variety of sensors that detect a person’s movement, which will effectively trigger the soft lights (or a gentle sound or vibration) to come on and then (hopefully) help to encourage the person to develop a new habit, such as locking a screen, changing a password, or updating their privacy settings.
These kind of nudges can be less disruptive to a person’s workload (or current task), and effectively remind them to do something. There is evidence that gentle prompts such as these have had positive impacts on people’s behaviour.
At a time when people are increasingly distracted, exhausted, and threatened by data breaches, the need to safeguard against threats is greater than ever. Exploring new approaches to “nudging” people’s behaviour could be a solution that helps to reduce our vulnerability to security threats – creating safer work and home environments for everyone.
Emily Collins receives funding from the Home Office.
Joanne Hinds receives funding from the Home Office.
Source: The Conversation: Technology http://theconversation.com/how-to-break-our-bad-online-security-habits-with-a-flashing-cyber-nudge-116937
Wandering Earth: rocket scientist explains how we could move our planet
In the Chinese science fiction film The Wandering Earth, recently released on Netflix, humanity attempts to change the Earth’s orbit using enormous thrusters in order to escape the expanding sun – and prevent a collision with Jupiter.
The scenario may one day come true. In five billion years, the sun will run out of fuel and expand, most likely engulfing the Earth. A more immediate threat is a global warming apocalypse. Moving the Earth to a wider orbit could be a solution – and it is possible in theory.
But how could we go about it and what are the engineering challenges? For the sake of argument, let us assume that we aim to move the Earth from its current orbit to an orbit 50% further from the sun, similar to Mars’.
We have been devising techniques to move small bodies – asteroids – from their orbit for many years, mainly to protect our planet from impacts. Some are based on an impulsive, and often destructive, action: a nuclear blast near or on the surface of the asteroid, or a “kinetic impactor”, for example a spacecraft colliding with the asteroid at high velocity. These are clearly not applicable to Earth due to their destructive nature.
Other techniques instead involve a very gentle, continuous push over a long time, provided by a tugboat docked on the surface of the asteroid, or a spacecraft hovering near it (pushing through gravity or other methods). But this would be impossible for the Earth as its mass is enormous compared to even the largest asteroids.
We have actually already been moving the Earth from its orbit. Every time a probe leaves the Earth for another planet, it imparts a small impulse to the Earth in the opposite direction, similar to the recoil of a gun. Luckily for us – but unfortunately for the purpose of moving the Earth – this effect is incredibly small.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is the most capable launch vehicle today. We would need 300 billion billion launches at full capacity in order to achieve the orbit change to Mars. The material making up all these rockets would be equivalent to 85% of the Earth, leaving only 15% of Earth in Mars orbit.
An electric thruster is a much more efficient way to accelerate mass – in particular ion drives, which work by firing out a stream of charged particles that propel the vessel forward. We could point and fire an electric thruster in the trailing direction of Earth’s orbit.
The oversized thruster should be 1,000 kilometres above sea level, beyond Earth’s atmosphere, but still solidly attached to the Earth with a rigid beam, to transmit the pushing force. With an ion beam fired at 40 kilometres per second in the right direction, we would still need to eject the equivalent of 13% of the mass of the Earth in ions to move the remaining 87%.
Sailing on light
As light carries momentum, but no mass, we may also be able to continuously power a focused light beam, such as a laser. The required power would be collected from the sun, and no Earth mass would be consumed. Even using the enormous 100GW laser plant envisaged by the Breakthrough Starshot project, which aims to propel spacecraft out of the solar system to explore neighbouring stars, it would still take three billion billion years of continuous use to achieve the orbital change.
But light can also be reflected directly from the sun to the Earth using a solar sail stationed next to the Earth. Researchers have shown that it would need a reflective disc 19 times bigger than the Earth’s diameter to achieve the orbital change over a timescale of one billion years.
A well-known technique for two orbiting bodies to exchange momentum and change their velocity is with a close passage, or gravitational slingshot. This type of manoeuvre has been extensively used by interplanetary probes. For example, the Rosetta spacecraft that visited comet 67P in 2014-2016, during its ten-year journey to the comet passed in the vicinity of the Earth twice, in 2005 and 2007.
As a result, the gravity field of the Earth imparted a substantial acceleration to Rosetta, which would have been unachievable solely using thrusters. Consequently, the Earth received an opposite and equal impulse – although this did not have any measurable effect due to Earth’s mass.
But what if we could perform a slingshot, using something much more massive than a spacecraft? Asteroids can certainly be redirected by the Earth, and while the mutual effect on Earth’s orbit will be tiny, this action can be repeated numerous times to ultimately achieve a considerable Earth orbit change.
Some regions of the solar system are dense with small bodies such as asteroids and comets, the mass of many of which is small enough to be moved with realistic technology, but still orders of magnitude larger than what can be realistically launched from Earth.
With accurate trajectory design, it is possible to exploit so-called “Δv leveraging” – a small body can be nudged out of its orbit and as a result swing past the Earth, providing a much larger impulse to our planet. This may seem exciting, but it has been estimated that we would need a million such asteroid close passes, each spaced about a few thousand years apart, to keep up with the sun’s expansion.
Of all the options available, using multiple asteroid slingshots seems the most achievable right now. But in the future, exploiting light might be the key – if we learn how to build giant space structures or super-powerful laser arrays. These could also be used for space exploration.
But while it is theoretically possible, and may one day be technically feasible, it might actually be easier to move our species to our planetary next-door neighbour, Mars, which may survive the sun’s destruction. We have, after all, already landed on and roved its surface several times.
After considering how challenging it would be to move the Earth, colonising Mars, making it habitable and moving Earth’s population there over time, might not sound as difficult after all.
Matteo Ceriotti does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Source: The Conversation: Technology http://theconversation.com/wandering-earth-rocket-scientist-explains-how-we-could-move-our-planet-116365
How to make health news interesting — without overselling the claims
Health stories are prolific in the news. Each year, thousands of articles are published claiming to have the latest compelling evidence on how we should eat, drink, exercise, sleep, and which medications we should or shouldn’t be taking – among a host of other things.
Not only is there a deluge of information, it is also often conflicting. Reports on statin use, for example, have stated there are associations between taking them and living longer, ageing faster, reduced stroke risk and increased diabetes risk.
Every day, these reports are read and shared by millions, potentially influencing our decisions and behaviour – but how do we know that the evidence we’re relying on is strong enough? Writers need easy ways to communicate the strength of evidence without reducing interest or readability. But that can sometimes mean the public is over or undersold its relevance.
For our latest research, we wanted to find a way to help writers accurately communicate research evidence, without diminishing reader interest in the claims. To do this, we teamed up with nine UK press offices, from journals, universities and funders, to run a randomised trial with health-related press releases.
We focused on press releases because they play a crucial role in science news. When the latest research is published, a press release is used to summarise the study’s most “newsworthy” results. The press release is then sent to journalists who use the material to write the news.
Previous research has shown that there is a close correspondence between the content of the press release and the news articles that follow – journalists have little time and tight word limits, so aren’t always able to build a more in-depth piece.
Mays and mights
The first aim of our work was to improve the alignment of news claims with the underlying evidence by focusing on the wording of press releases. In the intervention arm of the study, we reserved strong language, such as “causes”, “affects” and “boosts”, for strong causal evidence from trials and experiments.
In observational research, cause and effect is difficult to determine due to uncontrolled variables. For example, an association may exist between ice cream sales and water consumption – not because one causes the other, but because they both increase in sunny weather. So for this type of research we opted for weaker language, such as “may cause”, and “could affect”, in the releases. This distinction is not only easily understood by those who know the convention, but crucially also meaningful to all readers whether or not they have heard of correlations or clinical trials.
We found that the strength with which claims are made in press releases generally carries through into the news. Importantly, there was no detrimental effect on the likelihood of a story making it into the news if the language was softer. Whether or not a press release was picked up did not depend on the strength of the causal claims. When headlines and claims were softer in press releases, they were generally softer in news – despite the received wisdom that news is not interested in “mays” and “mights”.
The second aim of our research was to make sure that stories included explicit caveats – such as “this research was observational and cannot show cause and effect” – when needed. Our results showed that these caveats were more likely to appear in the news when they were present in the press release.
A story on liver health and smoking published on MailOnline, for example, used a quote from the press release to state, “Dr Brown stressed this was an observational study and cannot say whether giving up smoking led to a reduction in drinking or vice versa”. The caveats did not appear to reduce news uptake, and were even associated with more news coverage – a result that matches parallel research showing that caveats do not reduce reader interest.
Most of these findings are based on observational analyses, and although we cannot show the direct effect of press release content on the news, we do know that journalists read press releases before writing the news. We also cannot show how such news content would affect public health. But our findings suggest that there could be a simple way to communicate the strength of evidence to the public without affecting uptake.
Causal inference is just one element of evidence strength, but there are many others that could, and should, be communicated to readers. For example, findings from larger studies repeated over a long period of time are more robust than those from small, single studies. Although the reporting of evidence strength in the media is only one factor in how people make health-related decisions, we believe that providing more easily decoded news is a step in the right direction.
Petroc Sumner receives funding from the ESRC and Wellcome Trust
Rachel Adams receives funding from the European Research Council, and has received funding from the ESRC.
Climate change is putting even resilient and adaptable animals like baboons at risk
Baboons are large, smart, ground-dwelling monkeys. They are found across sub-Saharan Africa in various habitats and eat a flexible diet including meat, eggs, and plants. And they are known opportunists – in addition to raiding crops and garbage, some even mug tourists for their possessions, especially food.
We might be tempted to assume that this ecological flexibility (we might even call it resilience) will help baboons survive on our changing planet. Indeed, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which assesses extinction risk, labels five of six baboon species as “of Least Concern”. This suggests that expert assessors agree: the baboons, at least relatively speaking, are at low risk.
Unfortunately, my recent research suggests this isn’t the whole story. Even this supposedly resilient species may be at significant risk of extinction by 2070.
We know people are having huge impacts on the natural world. Scientists have gone as far as naming a new epoch, the Anthropocene, after our ability to transform the planet. Humans drive other species extinct and modify environments to our own ends every day. Astonishing television epics like Our Planet emphasise humanity’s overwhelming power to damage the natural world.
But so much remains uncertain. In particular, while we now have a good understanding of some of the changes Earth will face in the next decades – we’ve already experienced 1°C of warming as well as increases in the frequency of floods, hurricanes and wildfires – we still struggle to predict the biological effects of our actions.
In February 2019 the Bramble Cay melomys (a small Australian rodent) had the dubious honour of being named the first mammal extinct as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Others have suffered range loss, population decline and complex knock-on effects from their ecosystems changing around them. Predicting how these impacts will stack up is a significant scientific challenge.
We can guess at which species are at most risk and which are safe. But we must not fall into the trap of trusting our expectations of resilience, based as they are on a specie’s current success. Our recent research aimed to test these expectations – we suspected that they would not also predict survival under changing climates, and we were right.
Baboons and climate change
Models of the effects of climate change on individual species are improving all the time. These are ecological niche models, which take information on where a species lives today and use it to explore where it might be found in future.
For the baboon study, my masters student Sarah Hill and I modelled each of the six baboon species separately, starting in the present day. We then projected their potential ranges under 12 different future climate scenarios. Our models included two different time periods (2050 and 2070), two different degrees of projected climate change (2.6°C and 6°C of warming) and three different global climate models, each with subtly different perspectives on the Earth system. These two different degrees of warming were chosen because they represent expected “best case” and “worst case” scenarios, as modelled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Our model outputs allowed us to calculate the change in the area of suitable habitat for each species under each scenario. Three of our species, the yellow, olive and hamadryas baboons, seemed resilient, as we initially expected. For yellow and olive baboons, suitable habitat expanded under all our scenarios. The hamadryas baboon’s habitat, meanwhile, remained stable.
Guinea baboons (the only one IUCN-labelled as Near Threatened) showed a small loss. Under scenarios predicting warmer, wetter conditions, they might even gain a little. Unfortunately, models projecting warming and drying predicted that Guinea baboons could lose up to 41.5% of their suitable habitat.
But Kinda baboons seemed sensitive to the same warmer and wetter conditions that might favour their Guinea baboon cousins. They were predicted to lose habitat under every model, though the loss ranged from a small one (0-22.7%) in warmer and dryer conditions to 70.2% under the worst warm and wet scenario.
And the final baboon species, the chacma baboon from South Africa (the same species that are known for raiding tourist vehicles to steal treats) is predicted the worst habitat loss. Under our 12 scenarios, habitat loss was predicted to range from 32.4% to 83.5%.
The IUCN identifies endangered species using estimates of population and range size and how they have changed. Although climate change impacts are recognised as potentially causing important shifts in both these factors, climate change effect models like ours are rarely included, perhaps because they are often not available.
Our results suggest that in a few decades several baboon species might move into higher-risk categories. This depends on the extent of range (and hence population) loss they actually experience. New assessments will be required to see which category will apply to chacma, Kinda and Guinea baboons in 2070. It’s worth noting also that baboons are behaviourally flexible: they may yet find new ways to survive.
This also has wider implications for conservation practice. First, it suggests that we should try to incorporate more climate change models into assessments of species’ prospects. Second, having cast doubt on our assumption of baboon “resilience”, our work challenges us to establish which other apparently resilient species might be similarly affected. And given that the same projected changes act differently even on closely related baboon species, we presumably need to start to assess species more or less systematically, without prior assumptions, and to try to extract new general principles about climate change impacts as we work.
Sarah and I most definitely would not advocate discarding any of the existing assessment tools – the work the IUCN does is vitally important and our findings just confirm that. But our project may have identified an important additional factor affecting the prospects of even seemingly resilient species in the Anthropocene.
Isabelle Catherine Winder does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
source: The Conversation: Environment
Rape myths like ‘stranger danger’ challenged by global drug survey
Many of the beliefs people hold about rape are downright wrong. For example, women are often told they can avoid sexual assault by monitoring how much alcohol they drink on a night out. “Don’t leave your drink unattended” and “drink from bottles instead of cups” are common pieces of advice. There’s even a wristband that’s marketed as a “simple, wearable test to see if your drink may have been spiked”.
This is because alcohol and other drugs are widely thought to increase women’s vulnerability to sexual violence. At the same time, such substances are often said to be the cause of – or an excuse for – sexual aggression in men. This can even lead to double standards in people’s perceptions of sexual assault: one study found that intoxicated perpetrators tend to be held less responsible for their actions, while intoxicated victims tend to be held more responsible.
Such stereotypical or false beliefs about sexual assault are called “rape myths”, and they have a big impact on the way the victims and perpetrators of sexual assault are treated by society, the police and the legal system. Believing in rape myths often leads people to place responsibility on victims for what happened to them, rather than condemning perpetrators – so-called victim blaming.
A global phenomenon
To better understand people’s experiences of sexual assault while intoxicated, we asked the 123,800 people who completed the Global Drug Survey 2019 if they had been taken advantage of sexually while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs – 74,634 chose to answer the question.
Research has found that some people have trouble using terms such as “sexual assault”, “rape”, “victim” and “perpetrator” to describe their experiences – in part because common rape myths lead people to imagine such scenarios in a certain way. This means that experiences which differ from common rape myths are less likely to be reported, or even labelled as such.
To get around this problem, we asked participants in the Global Drug Survey if they had been taken advantage of sexually while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. We used this phrase – instead of “sexually assaulted” – to capture a wider range of experiences. We also collected further contextual information including where people were taken advantage of, who they were with and the type of drug they were using.
When we analysed the results, we found that 19% (14,174 respondents) reported that they had been taken advantage of sexually while intoxicated in their lifetime; 4% (3,252) said that this had happened within the last 12 months. It wasn’t just women who reported being taken advantage of: 8% of male respondents said they had experienced such an incident, and 2% had in the last 12 months.
Figures were higher for people identifying as women, non-binary or as a different gender identity: just over a third of participants from these groups reported being taken advantage of in their lifetime, and around 10% in the last 12 months.
Our findings challenged other dominant assumptions about sexual assault, including the idea that a woman is most likely to be assaulted by a stranger while walking alone outside at night. We found that 67% of incidents occurred in private homes, 70% of victims knew the perpetrator personally and 74% had friends or acquaintances nearby at the time of the incident.
Context and consent
Negotiating consent can be complex, especially when drugs or alcohol are involved, and our research found that 26% of respondents who reported being taken advantage of also said they gave their consent to initiate sexual activity. This suggests, too, that consent is best thought of as a process, rather than a one-off “yes” or “no” response. People must be able to withdraw their consent at any point during a sexual encounter.
Also, just because sex is “consensual” does not necessarily mean that it is wanted. It’s worth questioning whether people having sex always feel comfortable or safe saying “no” or withdrawing consent.
The next step is to consider how to best to prevent sexual assault from taking place. Clearly, advising women to monitor their alcohol or other drug consumption or avoid walking alone at night can only go so far, especially since incidents were more likely to occur in private houses, and involve a perpetrator known to the victim.
We must also recognise how categories such as gender, sexuality, race, ability and social class can affect the way intoxication and sexual assault are talked about and understood. For example, those who do not fit the bill of an “ideal victim” may have their experiences of sexual assault discredited by others. Context is also important – the setting, the type of drug and the nature of the relationship between the people involved in sexual activity can also help to explain why people feel some experiences are consensual, and others not.
Above all, people should reflect on the effects that alcohol or other drugs might have on their own feelings, and those of others, during sexual activity. Governments and other authorities such as police and schools should promote ethical sexual behaviour, supporting people to negotiate sex and intimacy, even while intoxicated.
If you have been sexually assaulted, there are services which can help you: call the Rape Crisis national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year).
Adam Winstock is the founder and owner of Global Drug Survey Ltd – an independent self funded organisation based in London. It takes no monies from the alcohol or tobacco industry. No funding was provided to conduct this part of the survey and the researchers retain full control over content and analyses.
Alex Aldridge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
[rMedia Invited to SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch of Four NASA Missions Media accreditation is open for SpaceX’s third Falcon Heavy launch, targeted for Saturday, June 22, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Source: Eurogamer. http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/media-invited-to-spacex-falcon-heavy-launch-of-four-nasa-missions
Plastic warms the planet twice as much as aviation – here’s how to make it climate-friendly
We’re all too aware of the consequences of plastics in the oceans and on land. However, beyond the visible pollution of our once pristine habitats, plastics are having a grave impact on the climate too.
Newly published research calculates that across their lifecycle, plastics account for 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s almost double the emissions of the aviation sector. If it were a country, the “Plastic Kingdom” would be the fifth-highest emitter in the world.
Demand is set to rise, too. At 380m tonnes a year, we produce 190 times more plastic than we did in 1950. If the demand for plastic continues to grow at its current rate of 4% a year, emissions from plastic production will reach 15% of global emissions by 2050.
Plastic across the lifecycle
More than 99% of plastics are manufactured from petrochemicals, most commonly from petroleum and natural gas. These raw materials are refined to form ethylene, propylene, butene, and other basic plastic building blocks, before being transported to manufacturers.
The production and transport of these resins requires an awful lot of energy – and therefore fuel. Greenhouse gas emissions also occur during the refining process itself – the “cracking” of larger hydrocarbons from petrochemicals into smaller ones suitable for making plastic releases carbon dioxide and methane. According to the study, about 61% of total plastic greenhouse gas emissions comes from the resin production and transport stage.
A further 30% is emitted at the product manufacturing stage. The vast majority of these emissions come from the energy required to power the plants that turn raw plastic materials into the bottles, bin bags and bicycle helmets we use today. The remainder occurs as a result of chemical and manufacturing processes – for example, the production of plastic foams uses HFCs, particularly potent greenhouse gases.
The remaining carbon footprint occurs when plastics are thrown away. Incineration releases all of the stored carbon in the plastic into the atmosphere, as well as air pollutants such as dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, which are toxic and damaging to human health.
As plastics take centuries to degrade, disposal in landfill makes only a small contribution to emissions in theory. However, as much as 40% of landfill waste is burnt in open skies, dramatically speeding up the release of otherwise locked-up carbon.
Making plastic climate-friendly
If we are to combat climate breakdown, reductions in plastic emissions are clearly needed. Thankfully, the solution with the biggest potential is already in motion, albeit slow. In showing that transitioning to a zero carbon energy system has the potential to reduce emissions from plastic by 51%, the study provides yet another reason to rapidly phase out fossil fuels.
However, beyond urgently required global decarbonisation, we need to reduce our seemingly insatiable demand for carbon-based plastic. Increasing recycling rates is one simple way of doing this. The highest-quality plastics can be recycled many times, and nearly all plastic can be recycled to some extent – but only 18% was actually recycled worldwide in 2015. Although each recycle process requires a small amount of new plastic, we can greatly increase the life cycle of the material by efficiently reusing what we make.
A more fundamental solution is to switch to making plastics from biodegradable sources such as wood, corn starch, and sugar cane. The materials themselves are carbon neutral, although renewable power is essential to eliminate the climate impact of energy costs during production, transport and waste processing.
However, a massive ramping up in the production of bioplastics – which currently make up less than 1% of total plastic production – would require vast swathes of agricultural land. With the population set to rise dramatically, increasingly coveted arable space may not be able to satisfy demand.
The bottom line, therefore, is that we will need to reduce our demand for plastic. According to the study, simply reducing the annual growth in plastics demand from 4% to 2% could result in 60% lower emissions from the sector in 2050. While a life without plastics may seem unimaginable, its worth remembering that their prevalence is a relativity recent phenomenon. The first artificial plastic, Bakelite, was developed in 1907, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the age of plastic began. If we show a genuine appetite to address plastic pollution, the world could change again just as quickly.
Governments, corporations, and individuals must make research into alternatives a priority, and support alternatives to needless plastic waste. Were most people to carry a reusable water bottle, for example, we could eliminate the need for the estimated 20,000 single-use bottles bought each second around the world.
Of course, any of these solutions alone will not be enough. As the recent study notes, only by combining reduction in demand, top-notch recycling, decarbonisation of energy, and large-scale adoption of bioplastics can we tackle plastic’s contribution to the climate crisis. But if we manage to do all of this, then we can cut plastics emissions to just 7% of current levels.
Plastics need not be completely demonised as environmental scourges. Affordable, durable, and versatile, they bring a raft of societal benefits, and will undoubtedly serve an important role where replacements are unable to be found. But decades of unbridled use and a throw-away culture are having grave consequences that go far beyond the visible pollution of our land and water. It is essential that we drastically reduce our use of avoidable plastics, and eliminate the carbon footprint of the ones we need to use. Our relationship with plastic may be toxic, but it doesn’t need to be forever.
Laurie Wright is affiliated with the American Center for Life Cycle Assessment (ACLCA) and the Forum for Sustainability through Life Cycle Innovation (FSLCI).
source: The Conversation: Environment
Scientists alone can’t solve the antibiotic resistance crisis – we need economists too
Driven by widespread antibiotic use, bacterial infections are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment, and the pipeline for new antibiotics is running dry. Recent reports estimate that, without action, by 2050 resistance to antimicrobial drugs will cause up to 10m deaths a year globally and reduce gross domestic product (GDP) by 2-3.5%.
These dire warnings are similar to those for climate change. A 2°C rise in global average surface temperature above pre-industrial levels will reduce GDP by about 3%. However, the difference with climate change is that economic analyses have helped to inform recommendations by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and decisions made by the international community, such as the Paris Agreement.
We believe the antibiotic resistance debate must also include these sorts of analyses.
Using antibiotics and fossil fuels, the ultimate source of most carbon emissions, imposes future costs, for example, from life-threatening infections and extreme weather, respectively. People can feel little incentive to reduce their use of antibiotics or fossil fuels because the negative consequences of using these resources may occur far into the future. Also, these future consequences may be unavoidable unless many other people also reduce their use.
The science of modelling antibiotic resistance levels or temperature rises, and their impacts on health and the economy, is highly complex and has many uncertainties. In our recent review, published in Science, we argued that, as with climate change, precaution requires setting ambitious but pragmatic targets for reducing antibiotic use on a country-by-country basis without delay.
As with climate change, science alone cannot solve the antibiotic resistance crisis. In particular, developing new antibiotics is not just a scientific problem. Without the right incentives, pharmaceutical companies will not try to develop the new drugs that we need.
A range of economic measures can help tackle the unnecessary use of antibiotics while stimulating the development of new antibiotics.
Developing new antibiotics is rarely profitable. Given this, most major pharmaceutical companies have left the field. We need research grants and tax credits to help bring down drug research and development costs. But a more fundamental issue is that pharmaceutical companies are being asked to produce a product that we will try to use as little as possible, to preserve its useful life.
Developing new antibiotics needs to be profitable, otherwise there is no incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop them. One solution might be to introduce a purchasable permit scheme for newly developed antibiotics, where healthcare organisations pay a fixed licensing fee for the right to use a certain number of annual doses of the drug. The number of licensed doses could be tied to the number of beds or the likelihood of encountering certain microbes. This would create a predictable revenue stream in a way that decouples the profits from new antibiotics from the volume used.
Another solution is to pay drug companies an insurance premium to provide access to antibiotics when they are needed. The premiums could be renegotiated at regular intervals.
We also need better incentives for developing interventions that can safely reduce antibiotic use.
In countries where the same healthcare professionals, such as doctors and pharmacists, both prescribe and sell drugs, they may have financial incentives to prescribe antibiotics. A system in which healthcare practices are taxed on each antibiotic they prescribe, or a tax is applied at a local or national level, might provide an effective incentive for reducing prescriptions. Also, the money raised could be invested in developing new antibiotics.
Another possible system is to give healthcare practices permits or quotas for prescribing, then let the market determine the price. This would be like the cap-and-trade schemes that have been set up to reduce carbon emissions, such as the EU Emissions Trading System. This approach could also provide better incentives for developing new antibiotics.
Widespread use of antibiotics in farming also contributes to antibiotic resistance. About 80% of antibiotics used in the US are in agriculture and aquaculture where these drugs are used to promote livestock growth or as cheaper alternatives to hygiene measures to prevent infections. We could use taxes and quotas to discourage unnecessary use of antibiotics in animals, with this income then reinvested in research and development.
Finally, the inability to afford antibiotics still causes more deaths worldwide than antibiotic resistance. Balancing the need to reduce antibiotic use with expanding essential access is difficult but important. If the cost of antibiotics increases, through taxation or quotas, it will be vital to develop ways to reduce the risk that these drugs will only be taken by people who can afford them.
This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit in Healthcare Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance at University of Oxford in partnership with PHE. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.
Richard Smith receives funding from the NIHR, Wellcome Trust and MRC.