Our Strength Lies in Our Humanity

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NASA Television to Air Russian Spacewalk at International Space Station

[rNASA Television to Air Russian Spacewalk at International Space Station Two veteran Russian cosmonauts will venture outside the International Space Station for a spacewalk Wednesday, May 29, to retrieve science experiments and conduct maintenance on the orbiting laboratory. Source: Eurogamer. http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-television-to-air-russian-spacewalk-at-international-space-station-0

Recycling: poorer countries can now refuse plastic waste imports – this could make the system fairer

Recycling: poorer countries can now refuse plastic waste imports – this could make the system fairer

The world generated 242 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2016 – a figure that’s expected to grow by 70% in the next 30 years. But this same plastic is also a commodity that’s sold and traded in a global industry that generates US$200 billion every year.

Exporting plastic waste is one way rich countries dispose of their waste. By selling waste to firms that then send it to countries where recycling costs are cheaper, rich countries can avoid the unpleasant task of finding somewhere at home to dispose of it. Unfortunately, most of this waste is shipped to countries that aren’t equipped to properly manage it.

When wealthy countries export their plastic waste to poorer countries with weaker recycling capacity, those plastics are often dumped, eventually polluting the land and sea. But a recent UN decision could help those countries most affected by plastic litter and with the least capacity to manage it. Due to a little-known treaty called the Basel Convention, poorer countries can now say no to the deluge of exported waste.

Activists urge progress at the Basel Convention.
IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth, Author provided

An enduring injustice

The Basel Convention was adopted by the UN in 1989 to manage the flow of toxic waste sent from rich to poor countries. It’s cheaper for wealthy countries to relocate their waste to areas with lower costs and oversight, and so opportunities to abuse the system emerge.

Italian waste management firms made headlines in 1988 because they stored hazardous wastes in a Nigerian fishing village, in drums labelled as building materials. For years Canada delayed repatriating waste – including nappies – dumped by a Canadian firm in the Philippines. The refuse has been sitting in the sun there since 2013.

The images of plastic waste piling up on beaches in many developing countries, including on some of the world’s most remote islands, prompted an effort led by Norway to use the Basel Convention for its original purpose.

Delegates negotiate the text to determine which plastics will be regulated by the UN decision.
IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth, Author provided

The negotiations held in Geneva over two weeks were intended to bring urgent action to address a complex issue. A few countries, such as Argentina and the US, were more cautious, as exporters of plastic waste themselves. They, like the recycling industry, warned that regulations could make it more difficult to recycle plastic, at a time when much more needs to be recycled. Statements went on for hours as developing countries recounted the plastics littering their lands, seas, beaches and even glaciers.

Norway brought forward a proposal to change how the treaty regulates plastics, by moving many types of plastics from the “non-hazardous” category to a list of wastes “of special concern.”

Starting in 2020, this will require developing countries to be informed if these plastics are in a waste shipment. With this information, countries can give, or revoke, their “prior informed consent”. For the first time, developing countries can refuse a shipment of plastics with the backing of international law.

Making the recycling industry fairer

This decision only applies to low-value, hard-to-recycle plastics. Think of food packaging or single-use water bottles: the plastics are soiled or mixed together (the lid, label, and bottle are different types of plastic), making them difficult to recycle. Most recyclers don’t want these plastics, which don’t generate a profit and increasingly are dumped in the landfills of poor countries.

Research shows how cheap plastics leach persistent organic pollutants into the environment – a particularly nasty group of chemicals that are toxic, travel through air and water over long distances, accumulate in animal tissue (including humans), and last a long time. More than 233 marine species have ingested plastic and litter has reached the deepest parts of the ocean.

The trade in global plastics is one driver of this problem, so giving developing countries the right to know what is entering their country and to refuse it is an appropriate solution to waste dumping.

Contaminated and mixed material waste like coffee cups are difficult to recycle and more likely to end up in landfill.
Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock

China, previously the world’s largest importer of plastics for recycling, banned the import of cheap and contaminated plastics in 2018, displacing plastic waste to other countries. China’s neighbours, such as Indonesia, and Malaysia, shouldered a heavier burden, particularly since countries like the UK continue to export over 600,000 tonnes of plastic a year.

Rich countries tend to produce the most plastic waste in the world per person and have better systems for managing it. If cheap and easy routes for dumping plastics close, wealthier countries may have to find ways to compel recycling companies to deal with their cheap plastics domestically.

This agreement is only the start, but it could empower poorer countries to refuse the deluge of plastics that ultimately end up lingering on their shores. In time, it may help redress some of the burning injustices in the global waste trade.

The Conversation

Jen Allan 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

Withdrawing life support: only one person’s view matters

Withdrawing life support: only one person’s view matters

Shortly before Frenchman Vincent Lambert’s life support was due to be removed, doctors at Sebastopol Hospital in Reims, France, were ordered to stop. An appeal court ruled that life support must continue.

Lambert was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in 2008 and has been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state. Since 2014, his case has been heard many times in French and European courts.

His wife, who is his legal guardian, wishes artificial nutrition and hydration to be stopped and Vincent to be allowed to die. His parents are opposed to this. On Monday, May 20, the parents succeeded in a last-minute legal appeal to stop Vincent’s doctors from withdrawing feeding, pending a review by a UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Lambert’s case is the latest example of disputed treatment for adult patients with profound brain injury. The case has obvious parallels with that of Terri Schiavo, in the US who died in 2005 following seven years of legal battles. And there have been other similar high-profile cases over more than 40 years, including Elena Englaro (Italy, court cases 1999-2008), Tony Bland (UK 1993) Nancy Cruzan (US 1988-90) and Karen Ann Quinlan (US 1975-76).

Contrasting responses

There are two contrasting responses to cases like that of Lambert. Some people read about his case and react with horror at the idea of being kept alive against their will in a state where they are completely dependent, unaware of their surroundings and with no apparent prospect of ever recovering.

Other people respond with horror at the idea of stopping feeding and allowing a profoundly disabled man to die, when he does not appear to be suffering and could be sustained in his current condition for months or years.

There are also contrasting ethical arguments. Some people point to the lack of benefit for Vincent in continued life. Because he has no conscious interests, it is not in his best interests to keep him alive, the argument goes. Others contend that his essential human dignity remains despite his profound disability and that his life must be protected “until its natural end”.

The UN Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities might have concern for the rights of the severely disabled to receive life-prolonging medical treatment. But there is a potentially competing right for disabled persons not to receive treatments they would not have wanted and not to have their lives prolonged in states they would have regarded as deeply undesirable.

It can be useful to debate such questions, but the long history of similar cases points to the ongoing challenge of reaching a common view on these issues. Quite simply, we will never all agree on what should happen in such cases. There are opposing reasonable ethical views. The important question is: what should we do in the face of such intractable disagreement?

Our societies are increasingly diverse; we have to accept that people have a range of different values and we should tolerate those differences. That acceptance and tolerance mean that we should allow people to live their lives based on their own ethical views and values, as long as they don’t harm others. It is perfectly acceptable for people to express their views about situations, such as that of Vincent Lambert. But it is not acceptable to impose other people’s views on Lambert’s life.

The only defensible ethical response to reasonable disagreement in cases like that of Vincent Lambert is to make decisions based on his values and wishes. If, as is claimed by Vincent’s wife, Vincent would not have wished to remain alive, then the wishes of his parents, of other doctors or of the Pope, are irrelevant. My views or your views on the matter, likewise, are of no consequence. Only Vincent’s wishes matter. And so life support must stop.

The Conversation

Dominic Wilkinson receives funding from The Wellcome Trust.


Climate change: ‘We’ve created a civilisation hell bent on destroying itself – I’m terrified’, writes Earth scientist

Climate change: ‘We’ve created a civilisation hell bent on destroying itself – I’m terrified’, writes Earth scientist


The coffee tasted bad. Acrid and with a sweet, sickly smell. The sort of coffee that results from overfilling the filter machine and then leaving the brew to stew on the hot plate for several hours. The sort of coffee I would drink continually during the day to keep whatever gears left in my head turning.

Odours are powerfully connected to memories. And so it’s the smell of that bad coffee which has become entwined with the memory of my sudden realisation that we are facing utter ruin.

It was the spring of 2011, and I had managed to corner a very senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) during a coffee break at a workshop. The IPCC was established in 1988 as a response to increasing concern that the observed changes in the Earth’s climate are being largely caused by humans.

The IPCC reviews the vast amounts of science being generated around climate change and produces assessment reports every four years. Given the impact the IPPC’s findings can have on policy and industry, great care is made to carefully present and communicate its scientific findings. So I wasn’t expecting much when I straight out asked him how much warming he thought we were going to achieve before we manage to make the required cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Oh, I think we’re heading towards 3°C at least,” he said.

“Ah, yes, but heading towards,” I countered: “We won’t get to 3°C, will we?” (Because whatever you think of the 2°C threshold that separates “safe” from “dangerous” climate change, 3°C is well beyond what much of the world could bear.)

“Not so,” he replied.

That wasn’t his hedge, but his best assessment of where, after all the political, economic, and social wrangling we will end up.

“But what about the many millions of people directly threatened,” I went on. “Those living in low-lying nations, the farmers affected by abrupt changes in weather, kids exposed to new diseases?”

He gave a sigh, paused for a few seconds, and a sad, resigned smile crept over his face. He then simply said: “They will die.”

This article is part of Conversation Insights

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Untold devastation awaits us if radical action is not taken.
Frans Delian/Shutterstock.com

That episode marked a clear boundary between two stages of my academic career. At the time, I was a new lecturer in the area of complex systems and Earth system science. Previously, I had worked as a research scientist on an international astrobiology project based in Germany.

In many ways, that had been my dream job. As a young boy, I had lain on the grass on clear summer evenings and looked up at one of the dots in the night sky and wondered if around that star a planet orbited with beings that could look up from the surface of their world and similarly wonder about the chances of life being found within the unremarkable solar system we call home in the universe. Years later, my research involves thinking about how surface life can affect the atmosphere, oceans and even rocks of the planet it lives on.

That’s certainly the case with life on Earth. At a global scale, the air we all breathe contains oxygen largely as a result of photosynthetic life, while an important part of the UK’s national identity for some – the white cliffs of Dover – are comprised of countless numbers of tiny marine organisms that lived more than 70m years ago.

The chalk is made up of ancient pulverised shells of tiny organisms called coccolithophore.
John Hemmings/Shutterstock.com

So it wasn’t a very large step from thinking about how life has radically altered the Earth over billions of years to my new research that considers how a particular species has wrought major changes within the most recent few centuries. Whatever other attributes Homo sapiens may have – and much is made of our opposable thumbs, upright walking and big brains – our capacity to impact the environment far and wide is perhaps unprecedented in all of life’s history. If nothing else, we humans can make an almighty mess.

Change within a lifetime

I was born in the early 1970s. This means in my lifetime the number of people on Earth has doubled, while the size of wild animal populations has been reduced by 60%. Humanity has swung a wrecking ball through the biosphere. We have chopped down over half of the world’s rainforests and by the middle of this century there may not be much more than a quarter left. This has been accompanied by a massive loss in biodiversity, such that the biosphere may be entering one of the great mass extinction events in the history of life on Earth.

What makes this even more disturbing, is that these impacts are as yet largely unaffected by climate change. Climate change is the ghosts of impacts future. It has the potential to ratchet up whatever humans have done to even higher levels. Credible assessments conclude that one in six species are threatened with extinction if climate change continues.

The scientific community has been sounding the alarm over climate change for decades. The political and economic response has been at best sluggish. We know that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to rapidly reduce emissions now.

Required emissions reductions to limit warming to 2°C.
Robbie Andrew

The sudden increase in media coverage of climate change as a result of the actions of Extinction Rebellion and school strike for climate pioneer Greta Thunburg, demonstrates that wider society is waking up to the need for urgent action. Why has it taken the occupation of Parliament Square in London or children across the world walking out of school to get this message heard?

There is another way of looking at how we have been responding to climate change and other environmental challenges. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because it offers a new perspective that could cut through inaction. Terrifying as it could, if we are not careful, lead to resignation and paralysis.

Read more:
Climate change: seeing the planet break down is depressing – here’s how to turn your pain into action

Because one explanation for our collective failure on climate change is that such collective action is perhaps impossible. It’s not that we don’t want to change, but that we can’t. We are locked into a planetary-scale system that while built by humans, is largely beyond our control. This system is called the technosphere.

The technosphere

Coined by US geoscientist Peter Haff in 2014, the technosphere is the system that consists of individual humans, human societies – and stuff. In terms of stuff, humans have produced an extraordinary 30 trillion metric tons of things. From skyscrapers to CDs, fountains to fondue sets. A good deal of this is infrastructure, such as roads and railways, which links humanity together.

Along with the physical transport of humans and the goods they consume is the transfer of information between humans and their machines. First through the spoken word, then parchment and paper-based documents, then radio waves converted to sound and pictures, and subsequently digital information sent via the internet. These networks facilitate human communities. From roving bands of hunter-gatherers and small farming tribes, right up to the inhabitants of a megacity that teams with over 10m inhabitants, Homo sapiens is a fundamentally social species.

The techno-planet.
Joshua Davenport/Shutterstock.com

Just as important, but much less tangible, is society and culture. The realm of ideas and beliefs, of habits and norms. Humans do a great many different things because in important ways they see the world in different ways. These differences are often held to be the root cause of our inability to take effective global action. There is no global government, for a start.

But as different as we all are, the vast majority of humanity is now behaving in fundamentally similar ways. Yes, there are still some nomads who roam tropical rainforests, still some roving sea gypsies. But more than half of the global population now lives in urban environments and nearly all are in some way connected to industrialised activities. Most of humanity is tightly enmeshed into a globalised, industrialised complex system – that of the technosphere.

Importantly, the size, scale and power of the technosphere has dramatically grown since World War II. This tremendous increase in the number of humans, their energy and material consumption, food production and environmental impact has been dubbed the Great Acceleration.

The great acceleration of the technosphere.
Felix Pharand-Deschenes Globaia

The tyranny of growth

It seems sensible to assume that the reason products and services are made is so that they can be bought and sold and so the makers can turn a profit. So the drive for innovation – for faster, smaller phones, for example – is driven by being able to make more money by selling more phones. In line with this, the environmental writer George Monbiot argued that the root cause of climate change and other environmental calamities is capitalism and consequently any attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will ultimately fail if we allow capitalism to continue.

But zooming out from the toil of individual manufacturers, and even humanity, allows us to take a fundamentally different perspective, one that transcends critiques of capitalism and other forms of government.

Humans consume. In the first instance, we must eat and drink in order to maintain our metabolism, to stay alive. Beyond that, we need shelter and protection from physical elements.

There are also the things we need to perform our different jobs and activities and to travel to and from our jobs and activities. And beyond that is more discretional consumption: TVs, games consoles, jewellery, fashion.

The purpose of humans in this context is to consume products and services. The more we consume, the more materials will be extracted from the Earth, and the more energy resources consumed, the more factories and infrastructure built. And ultimately, the more the technosphere will grow.

The growth of the economy is based on the growth of consumption.
Roman Mikhailiuk/Shutterstock.com

The emergence and development of capitalism obviously lead to the growth of the technosphere: the application of markets and legal systems allows increased consumption and so growth. But other political systems may serve the same purpose, with varying degrees of success. Recall the industrial output and environmental pollution of the former Soviet Union. In the modern world, all that matters is growth.

The idea that growth is ultimately behind our unsustainable civilisation is not a new concept. Thomas Malthus famously argued there were limits to human population growth, while the Club of Rome’s 1972 book, Limits to Growth, presented simulation results that pointed to a collapse in global civilisation.

Today, alternative narratives to the growth agenda are, perhaps, getting political traction with an All Party Parliamentary Group convening meetings and activities that seriously consider de-growth policies. And curbing growth within environmental limits is central to the idea of a Green New Deal, which is now being discussed seriously in the US, UK, and other nations.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, champion of the US Green New Deal.
Rachael Warriner/Shutterstock.com

If growth is the problem, then we just have to work at that, right? This won’t be easy, as growth is baked into every aspect of politics and economics. But we can at least imagine what a de-growth economy would look like.

My fear, however, is that we will not be able to slow down the growth of the technosphere even if we tried – because we are not actually in control.

Limits to freedom

It may seem nonsense that humans are unable to make important changes to the system they have built. But just how free are we? Rather than being masters of our own destiny, we may be very constrained in how we can act.

Like individual blood cells coursing through capillaries, humans are part of a global-scale system that provides for all their needs and so has led them to rely on it entirely.

Tokyo train commuters travelling to work.

If you jump in your car to get to a particular destination, you can’t travel in a straight line “as the crow flies”. You will use roads that in some instances are older than your car, you, or even your nation. A significant fraction of human effort and endeavour is devoted to maintaining this fabric of the technosphere: fixing roads, railways, and buildings, for example.

In that respect, any change must be incremental because it must use what current and previous generations have built. The channelling of people via road networks seems a trivial way to demonstrate that what happened far in the past can constrain the present, but humanity’s path to decarbonisation isn’t going to be direct. It has to start from here and at least in the beginning use existing routes of development.

This isn’t meant to excuse policymakers for their failure of ambition, or lack of bravery. But it indicates that there may be deeper reasons why carbon emissions are not decreasing even when there appears to be increasingly good news about alternatives to fossil fuels.

Think about it: at the global scale, we have witnessed a phenomenal rate of deployment of solar, wind, and other sources of renewable energy generation. But global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. This is because renewables promote growth – they simply represent another method of extracting energy, rather than replacing an existing one.

Renewable energy production has not led to a reduction in fossil fuel use.
Thongsuk Atiwannakul/Shutterstock.com

The relationship between the size of the global economy and carbon emissions is so robust that US physicist Tim Garret has proposed a very simple formula that links the two with startling accuracy. Using this method, an atmospheric scientist can predict the size of the global economy for the past 60 years with tremendous precision.

But correlation does not necessarily mean causation. That there has been a tight link between economic growth and carbon emissions does not mean that has to continue indefinitely. The tantalisingly simple explanation for this link is that the technosphere can be viewed like an engine: one that works to make cars, roads, clothes, and stuff – even people – using available energy.

The technosphere still has access to abundant supplies of high energy density fossil fuels. And so the absolute decoupling of global carbon emissions from economic growth will not happen until they either run out or the technosphere eventually transitions to alternative energy generation. That may be well beyond the danger zone for humans.

A repugnant conclusion

We have just come to appreciate that our impacts on the Earth system are so large that we have possibly ushered in a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. The Earth’s rocks will bear witness to humans’ impacts long after we disappear. The technosphere can be seen as the engine of the Anthropocene. But that does not mean we are driving it. We may have created this system, but it is not built for our communal benefit. This runs completely counter to how we view our relationship with the Earth system.

Take the planetary boundaries concept, which has generated much interest scientifically, economically, and politically. This idea frames human development as impacting on nine planetary boundaries, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and ocean acidification. If we push past these boundaries, then the Earth system will change in ways that will make human civilisation very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. The value of, say, the biosphere here is that it provides goods and services to us. This represents what we can literally get from the system.

The planetary boundaries that are intended to help define a safe operating space for humanity.
Steffen, W., et al, 2015. Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223), p.1

This very human-centric approach should lead to more sustainable development. It should constrain growth. But the technological world system we have built is clever at getting around such constraints. It uses the ingenuity of humans to build new technologies – such as geoengineering – to reduce surface temperatures. That would not halt ocean acidification and so would lead to the potential collapse of ocean ecosystems. No matter. The climate constraint would have been avoided and the technosphere could then get to work overcoming any side effects of biodiversity loss. Fish stocks collapse? Shift to farmed fish or intensively grown algae.

As defined so far, there appears nothing to stop the technosphere liquidating most of the Earth’s biosphere to satisfy its growth. Just as long as goods and services are consumed, the technosphere can continue to grow.

And so those who fear the collapse of civilisation or those who have enduring faith in human innovation being able to solve all sustainability challenges may both be wrong.

After all, a much smaller and much richer population of the order of hundreds of millions could consume more than the current population of 7.6 billion or the projected population of nine billion by the middle of this century. While there would be widespread disruption, the technosphere may be able to weather climate change beyond 3°C. It does not care, cannot care, that billions of people would have died.

Fewer people would not necessarily mean a smaller technosphere.

And at some point in the future, the technosphere could even function without humans. We worry about robots taking over human’s jobs. Perhaps we should be more concerned with them taking over our role as apex consumers.

Escape plan

The situation, then, may all seem rather hopeless. Whether or not my argument is an accurate representation of our civilisation, there is the risk it produces a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because if we believe we can’t slow down the growth of the technosphere, then why bother?

This goes beyond the question of “what difference could I make?” to “what difference can anyone make?” While flying less, cutting down on eating meat and dairy and cycling to work are all commendable steps to take, they do not constitute living outside the technosphere.

It’s not just that we give tacit consent to the technosphere by using its roads, computers, or intensively farmed food. It’s that by being a productive member of society, by earning and spending, above all by consuming, we further the technosphere’s growth.

Read more:
Climate change: yes, your individual action does make a difference

Perhaps the way out from fatalism and disaster is an acceptance that humans may not actually be in control of our planet. This would be the vital first step that could lead to a broader outlook that encompasses more than humans.

For example, the mainstream economic attitude about trees, frogs, mountains, and lakes is that these things only have value if they provide something to us. This mindset sets them up as nothing more than resources to exploit and sinks for waste.

What if we thought of them as components or even our companions in the complex Earth system? Questions about sustainable development then become questions about how growth in the technosphere can be accommodated with their concerns, interests, and welfare as well as ours.

This may produce questions that seem absurd. What are the concerns or interests of a mountain? Of a flea? But if we continue to frame the situation in terms of “us against them”, of human well-being trumping everything else in the Earth system, then we may be effectively hacking away the best form of protection against a dangerously rampant technosphere.

And so the most effective guard against climate breakdown may not be technological solutions, but a more fundamental reimagining of what constitutes a good life on this particular planet. We may be critically constrained in our abilities to change and rework the technosphere, but we should be free to envisage alternative futures. So far our response to the challenge of climate change exposes a fundamental failure of our collective imagination.

We must start to see ourselves as a small part of a planetary natural system.
Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock.com

To understand you are in a prison, you must first be able to see the bars. That this prison was created by humans over many generations doesn’t change the conclusion that we are currently tightly bound up within a system that could, if we do not act, lead to the impoverishment, and even death of billions of people.

Eight years ago, I woke up to the real possibility that humanity is facing disaster. I can still smell that bad coffee, I can still recall the memory of scrabbling to make sense of the words I was hearing. Embracing the reality of the technosphere doesn’t mean giving up, of meekly returning to our cells. It means grabbing a vital new piece of the map and planning our escape.

Click here to subscribe to our climate action newsletter. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.

The Conversation

James Dyke does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

source: The Conversation: Environment

We need lots more male nurses, but progress can come with bumps along the way

We need lots more male nurses, but progress can come with bumps along the way

So much for gender balance. Micholas

It’s an uncharacteristically sunny Saturday at Stark’s Park football ground in Kirkcaldy, Fife in the east of Scotland. This is the home of Raith Rovers, a big fish of the lower Scottish leagues, who are in the hunt for a place in the play-offs and a chance to clamber back into the second tier of league football.

Unlike most people coming through the gates for today’s clash with struggling Brechin City, my colleagues and I are not so much here for the football. We’re running a stand to press the case for more men in nursing, a profession where women outnumber men by a staggering nine to one – both in Scotland and around the world.

This is Scotland’s former industrial heartland, part of the constituency previously held by former UK prime minister, Gordon Brown – himself a Raith fan. Kirkcaldy was once the world’s largest linoleum manufacturing centre. We’re also a stone’s throw from one of the country’s largest coal-mining areas.

The Raith faithful.
McRob, CC BY

Such male-dominated occupations have long since faded into the past, and unemployment levels here are well above the national average. The University of Dundee has a campus in Kirkcaldy where nurses study – and this ought to be a good place to persuade men that nursing could be the career pathway them. They’re certainly highly sought after as the UK faces serious nursing shortages.

While the game is underway, we move our trestle table to a more central location. We weren’t getting much traction in our previous spot, which made us think that a previously unidentified mediating factor in men’s under-representation in the nursing profession may be their unwillingness to discuss career prospects en route to the toilet or the food concession.

The youngest fans are happy to take some of our university-branded Post-Its and pens – but most people are fairly non-committal on the prospect of male nursing. Views range from: “It’s a great job, just not for me”, and: “I had a male nurse look after my ma and he was brilliant”, through: “No-one told us about it at school”, to: “I know it’s not right – and it’s definitely not my opinion – but a lot of people think male nurses must be gay”.

Raith Rovers’ other stand – for recruiting male nurses.
Richard Craven

Many men are perhaps used to expressing their emotions on afternoons like these, while still seeing it as weak or “unmasculine” to do so in other areas of their lives – including in professions traditionally associated with care and empathy. One nursing student colleague who is helping on the stand, braving the chill of the concourse in his tunic uniform, tells me that though he comes from Kirkcaldy, people he knows at the match simply don’t recognise him in these clothes. It adds to my sense that as nurses, men are invisible.

Pros and cons to change

In recent years, there have been growing efforts to address the problem of men being underrepresented in nursing – a recruitment drive in England has prompted a substantial increase in male student nurses, for instance. Men who do choose to become nurses generally see it as a stable and rewarding career option. Yet there’s a very long way to go – and we know from recent research that nursing is still perceived as an essentially female job, something that is compounded by the lack of men in the profession.

The research still points to a need to change nursing recruitment to make it more gender neutral – for example, bunching together male interviewees for nursing jobs rather than common situations where one man is waiting to be interviewed along with five women. We need to see changes well beyond recruitment, however – when children are taught about health and care in primary schools and even nurseries, nursing has to be presented as more of a gender-neutral occupation.

Before we go full steam ahead, however, there are a couple of reasons for caution. According to the Nursing and Midwifery Council, men in 2017-18 made up just over 10% of the UK’s 690,000 nurses, but were the subject of nearly 5,000 cases on fitness to practice – 23% of the total. As they progressed through the hearing stages, these men were also more likely than female counterparts to be found to have a case to answer, more likely to face temporary suspension and more likely to be removed from the profession. And judging by the figures for the first part of this year, this trend is continuing.

Long push for equality.
Spotmatik Ltd

Recent research from London also reports a disproportionate number of men at higher levels of the profession. The researchers suggest that where women have spent many years banging their heads against glass ceilings, in some gendered professions such as nursing, men are possibly riding a “glass escalator” to the top.

So it could be that by recruiting lots more male nurses, you end up with more disciplinary problems and fewer high-ranking female nurses. This is the time to examine these issues more closely – we need more research into why men end up in more disciplinary hearings, for example. And we need to look at whether and why there may be a glass escalator in the profession and what can be done about it.

Progress can come with bumps along the way. It’s a little like the fortunes of Raith, who ended up making this season’s play offs only to miss out on promotion in the final.

The Conversation

Richard Craven 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.


In-car technology: are we being sold a false sense of security?

In-car technology: are we being sold a false sense of security?


The retired football star David Beckham recently received a six-month driving ban after being photographed using his hand-held phone while driving. Unfortunately, Beckham is not alone in apparently thinking that time spent driving can also be usefully spent doing something else.

But it isn’t just phones that can distract us while driving. Increasingly, vehicles come pre-installed with technology that promises to improve our lives and let us get that little bit more productivity out of our journey – be it digital assistants such as Alexa or parking assist systems. Many such technologies are designed to keep us safe, but could they actually be dangerous – giving us a false impression that our attention can be focused elsewhere? We have been finding out.

Interestingly, most drivers seem to support the view that hand-held phone use is risky, as it involves the driver potentially taking their hands off the wheel. They also know it is illegal. The problem is that many drivers still continue to use their phones “handsfree” behind the wheel, because the law allows them to do so providing their hands are on the wheel. This implies it is a safe alternative.

But research clearly shows that the driving behaviour and crash risk of a phone-using driver (whether that is hand-held or hands-free) is similar to, and sometimes worse than, that of a drunk driver. Our research has shown that phone use carries a significant cost to a driver’s attention, making them far more prone to errors, including failures in visual perception and inability to detect and react to hazards.

The real problem with phone use is the cognitive demands it places on a driver. If we try to allocate attention to another engaging task at the same time as driving, our performance in both tasks suffers.

Infotainment and safety

We are continually introducing more technologies to our vehicles. Drivers can now ask Alexa or Google assistant a question, listen to text messages read aloud by the vehicle and use voice commands to initiate phone calls. All of this tech also works on the assumption that if it’s only your voice you are using, there are no safety implications.

This is problematic as a wealth of research demonstrates that this kind of “infotainment” technology actually causes some of the distraction that contributes to driver error.

Driving is complex and fast-paced, requiring the processing of information from multiple inputs, yet often we are made to feel as though it is easy. But demands on attention when driving vary from minute to minute, meaning any focus allocated elsewhere is a precious resource which may not be available when the driver faces an unexpected event. Listening to music, however, is less of a problem as it isn’t interactive in the same way as other technologies.

As failure at the wheel can have devastating consequences, it is unsurprising that the idea of technological solutions to mitigate driver error are also becoming more common. It’s likely that Beckham’s Bentley has (at the very least) ABS, parking-assist, reversing sensors and lane-keeping technology. Such technology has led to a trend in advertising that encourages a belief that our modern cars can pretty much drive themselves.

metamorworks/Shutterstock, CC BY-SA

The European parliament recently announced that, from 2022, all new cars should be fitted with intelligent speed assistance (ISA), along with other safety features designed to alert drivers to distraction and drowsiness.

But will these technologies increase safety, or could they encourage further distraction? Clearly, drivers are not great at respecting speed limits, so it may seem like a good idea to aim to take the choice of whether to speed or not out of our hands. To make something “techno-fixable” though, you need to reduce complex driving behaviour to dichotomies of “safe” and “dangerous”. Technology needs to be told which behaviour triggers which response in simple, binary terms as it cannot (yet) handle ifs and buts and context. But the risk is that this may encourage us to believe that 30mph, for example, is inherently safe, even when 20mph, or even less, might have been the safer choice. This is something we would like to explore further in our research.

Likewise, tech that warns a driver if they are showing signs of drowsiness or intoxication, and parks their car for them if they don’t respond correctly, could actually encourage drivers to think that they can drive when unfit because the car will step in and save them. Technology can be marketed as improving safety, but safety requires understanding – not dichotomies.

We know that a driver with their hands obligingly at the “ten and two position” can nonetheless be dangerously distracted. Yet we are continually introducing technologies to our vehicles that are distracting. Sadly, we can’t be sure that manufacturers are motivated by selling safety, as opposed to a version of safety that sells.

At a time when we are no longer seeing year-on-year reductions in the number of people being killed or seriously injured on our roads, it seems clear that something radical needs to be done to get drivers’ focus back onto the driving task itself – and to challenge the perception that getting from A to B is a good opportunity to indulge in catching up on a bit of C.

The Conversation

Helen Wells has previously received funding from the Road Safety Trust to conduct a research project exploring innovations in tackling mobile phone use by drivers.

Leanne Savigar has previously received funding from the Road Safety Trust to conduct a research project exploring innovations in tackling mobile phone use by drivers.

Gemma Briggs 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/in-car-technology-are-we-being-sold-a-false-sense-of-security-117473

NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Lunar Gateway Power, Propulsion

[rNASA Awards Artemis Contract for Lunar Gateway Power, Propulsion In one of the first steps of the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration plans, NASA announced on Thursday the selection of Maxar Technologies, formerly SSL, in Westminster, Colorado, to develop and demonstrate power, propulsion and communications capabilities for NASA’s lunar Gateway. Source: Eurogamer. http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-awards-artemis-contract-for-lunar-gateway-power-propulsion

Chimpanzees spotted smashing open and eating tortoises for the first time

Chimpanzees spotted smashing open and eating tortoises for the first time

Erwan Theleste, CC BY-SA

All chimpanzees eat animals at least sometimes, including anything from ants and termites to bushpigs and even baboons. Monkeys, in fact, are typically the most frequent item on the menu, and in some cases chimpanzees can eat so many monkeys they threaten to wipe out entire populations. One group in Senegal even hunts tiny, mouse-like primates known as bushbabies by using spear-like tools to first probe the holes the bushbabies hide in during the day, before reaching in to grab their prey.

So chimpanzees are rightly known as resourceful eaters. But until now scientists had never observed them eating reptiles.

That has all changed, thanks to a group of wild chimpanzees in Loango National Park along the Atlantic coast of Gabon in Central Africa. These chimps have recently become used to the presence of humans, which means scientists can now see them act exactly as they would in nature. And, writing in the journal Scientific Reports, a group of researchers say they have already observed behaviour not previously seen in chimpanzees.

These chimpanzees regularly catch, kill and consume tortoises that have been grabbed from the forest floor. For people like us, who also research chimpanzee behaviour, the discovery is particularly exciting because the animals obtain the tortoise meat by pounding the shell repeatedly onto a tree trunk until it cracks.

Thought pistachio nuts were hard to open? Try eating tortoise.

This sort of “percussive foraging” – the pounding of certain food items until a breaking point – has been seen in chimpanzees elsewhere, but never to obtain meat. For instance chimps in Senegal have been observed pounding baobab shells to extract the softer fruit-covered seeds inside. From Sierra Leone to the Ivory Coast, Western chimpanzees use stone and wooden hammers to crack open encased nuts from protective outer shells.

Broadly, this sort of pounding has been suggested as the first step towards more complex tool use that allowed early human ancestors to flourish. The question of why other chimpanzee communities do not do this too, despite the clear benefits of obtaining otherwise protected nuts, seeds – and now meat – remains unanswered.

The reward is a tasty tortoise, helpfully served in a bowl-shaped shell.

This newly discovered percussive behaviour in chimpanzees leaves a significant damage pattern on the tortoise shell and potentially damages the anvil on which it was cracked. The evidence left behind is therefore of interest to us primate archaeologists who use archaeological techniques to understand the physical remains of non-human primates. Our work in this emerging discipline relies on material artefacts – shattered tortoise shells, for instance – to reconstruct contemporary primate behaviour in the same way we do for early hominins.

We have long assumed that reconstructing hominin meat-eating behaviour was dependent on our finding fossilised stone tools and cut marks left on processed animal bones. To this select list we can now add tortoise shell. Previously, scientists had looked at fractured turtle remains and argued the animals may have been an important part of early human diets, but the Loango chimpanzees provide us a glimpse of the role this meat may have played for our early ancestors.

The new findings also reveal something even more remarkable. Among their observations, the researchers describe another novel behaviour, the storage of one of the tortoise shells in the fork of a tree that is later retrieved and consumed by the same male chimpanzee.

Chimpanzee eating part of a small antelope.
Camille Giuliano/Anne-Sophie Crunchant/GMERC, Author provided

Such “future-oriented cognition” has long been considered uniquely human, but experimental evidence suggests other species, including apes and some birds, may possess it as well. If chimpanzees can indeed anticipate a future state (I will be hungry) as being different than their current one (I am not hungry), then a more nuanced interpretation of their cognition is required. Indeed, a careful study of the species may uncover many more examples of this future planning.

It is now clear that with every new wild chimpanzee community that becomes used to humans, scientists observe new and unexpected behaviour – some of which challenges our understanding of evolution and what it means to be human. Furthermore, the difference in behaviour from group to group highlights the extraordinary cultural diversity among our closest living relatives.

The opportunity for comparisons with our own evolution has become a run against time as the human infestation of the planet threatens wild primate populations worldwide. We know that the presence of humans directly destroys not only the habitat and lives of primates but also leads to the loss of behavioural diversity. Conserving the last remaining populations of wild apes has become urgent, otherwise our fellow primates will disappear forever. With their extinction will disappear a part of their own heritage and a window back to our own evolution.

The Conversation

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: Environment

NASA to Land in Mars, Pennsylvania to Celebrate Red Planet with STEAM

[rNASA to Land in Mars, Pennsylvania to Celebrate Red Planet with STEAM NASA returns to Mars, Pennsylvania Friday, May 31 to celebrate Mars exploration and share the agency’s excitement about landing astronauts on the Moon in five years. Source: Eurogamer. http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-to-land-in-mars-pennsylvania-to-celebrate-red-planet-with-steam