Sunday, 19 November 2017

'It's a delicate place': Nasa captures 20 years of Earth's seasonal changes – video

Upsurge in big earthquakes predicted for 2018 as Earth rotation slows


A child on a collapsed building at Darbandikhan, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq on Monday after northern Iraq and Iran were hit by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake.
A child on a collapsed building at Darbandikhan, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq on Monday after the north of the country and northern Iran were hit by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


Scientists have warned there could be a big increase in numbers of devastating earthquakes around the world next year. They believe variations in the speed of Earth’s rotation could trigger intense seismic activity, particularly in heavily populated tropical regions.
Although such fluctuations in rotation are small – changing the length of the day by a millisecond – they could still be implicated in the release of vast amounts of underground energy, it is argued.
The link between Earth’s rotation and seismic activity was highlighted last month in a paper by Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.
“The correlation between Earth’s rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year,” Bilham told the Observer last week.
In their study, Bilham and Bendick looked at earthquakes of magnitude 7 and greater that had occurred since 1900. “Major earthquakes have been well recorded for more than a century and that gives us a good record to study,” said Bilham.
They found five periods when there had been significantly higher numbers of large earthquakes compared with other times. “In these periods, there were between 25 to 30 intense earthquakes a year,” said Bilham. “The rest of the time the average figure was around 15 major earthquakes a year.”
The researchers searched to find correlations between these periods of intense seismic activity and other factors and discovered that when Earth’s rotation decreased slightly it was followed by periods of increased numbers of intense earthquakes. “The rotation of the Earth does change slightly – by a millisecond a day sometimes – and that can be measured very accurately by atomic clocks,” said Bilham.
Bilham and Bendick found that there had been periods of around five years when Earth’s rotation slowed by such an amount several times over the past century and a half. Crucially, these periods were followed by periods when the numbers of intense earthquakes increased.
“It is straightforward,” said Bilham. “The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes.”
This link is particularly important because Earth’s rotation began one of its periodic slowdowns more than four years ago. “The inference is clear,” said Bilham. “Next year we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes. We have had it easy this year. So far we have only had about six severe earthquakes. We could easily have 20 a year starting in 2018.”
Exactly why decreases in day length should be linked to earthquakes is unclear although scientists suspect that slight changes in the behaviour of Earth’s core could be causing both effects.
In addition, it is difficult to predict where these extra earthquakes will occur – although Bilham said they found that most of the intense earthquakes that responded to changes in day length seemed to occur near the equator. About one billion people live in the Earth’s tropical regions.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Climate summit goes slow and steady but King Coal looms

Extract from The Guardian

Little drama in Bonn other than some star turns and a pantomime villain. All eyes are now on Poland, the next summit host

Emmanuel Macron, centre, at the Bonn global climate change talks
Emmanuel Macron, centre, visits the French stand at the Bonn global climate change talks. Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images


For an issue that often seems to lurch from crisis to catastrophe, the steady but vital progress at the UN’s global climate change talks in Bonn was reassuring. But there remains a very long way to go before the world gets on track to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming.
There was little drama as the diplomatic sherpas trekked up the mountain of turning the political triumph of the 2015 Paris agreement into a technical reality, with a rulebook that would allow countries to start ramping up action. They got about as far as expected in turning the conceptual into the textual, but no further.
But that is not to say there were no star turns. Timoci Naulusala, a 12-year-old Fijian boy, gave a passionate yet nerveless account of the destruction of his village by Cyclone Winston in 2016 to the gathered heads of state and ministers. “Climate change is real, not a dream,” he said.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, turned on the charisma and heartened the gathered nations with a pledge to replace the US funding dumped by Donald Trump for the UN’s climate science body.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4PXL72Vjxw
Timoci Naulusala speaks at the global climate change talks

The Trump administration, which wants the US to be the only country in the world not in the Paris deal, was the pantomime villain, but only succeeded in uniting the 195 other nations against it. The sole US event brought an executive from Peabody, the US coal company with a long history of funding climate denial, to argue for “clean coal”. A protest song and walkout from most of the audience followed and for the rest of the summit, the US delegation was irrelevant.
But the large coalition of US cities and states backing climate action – which as a group represents the third-largest economy in the world – stole the American show, with the California governor, Jerry Brown, popping up everywhere, pumping up the crowds.
The multi-nation pledge to phase out coal use was the political high point, but the dragging on of the coalition talks in Germany prevented Angela Merkel from potentially joining the party. The politics is key: UN climate talks run on consensus, with no votes, so trust and momentum are vital and were preserved in Bonn.
But the summit was like a dress rehearsal for next year, when the Paris rulebook has to be finalised and poorer and vulnerable nations will demand much more action and funding from the rich countries they blame for climate change. Further gatherings in Paris in December and California next year will also help prepare the stage for the 2018 UN climate summit.

That will be in Silesia, a heartland of Europe’s King Coal, Poland, which has already started feeling the international pressure to clean up its act. If that summit achieves its goals – accelerating carbon cuts – then the curtain will have been raised on the clean, green 21st century, against a backdrop of the mines and power plants of the 20th century.

Jacinda Ardern retorts to Donald Trump: 'No one marched when I was elected'

New Zealand prime minister describes lighthearted retort to US president after he ribbed her for ‘causing a lot of upset in her country’

Jacinda Ardern first met Donald Trump face to face at the east Asia summit in Vietnam
Jacinda Ardern first met Donald Trump face to face at the east Asia summit in Vietnam Photograph: Wallace Woon/EPA

New Zealand’s new prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has described how she joked with Donald Trump when they first met, telling the US president “no one marched when I was elected”.
Revealing details about her first meeting with Trump at the east Asia summit in Vietnam last week, Ardern said the exchange was low-key and relaxed.
Ardern was sworn in as prime minister last month. The pair had already had a conversation by telephone in late October, when Trump called Ardern at her Auckland home to congratulate her on winning the election.
The meeting at the east Asia summit was the first time the leaders – who are polar opposites on the political spectrum – had been introduced face to face.
“I was waiting to walk out to be introduced at the east Asia summit gala dinner, where we all paraded and while we were waiting, Trump, in jest, patted the person next to him on the shoulder, pointed at me and said, ‘This lady caused a lot of upset in her country,’ talking about the election.” Ardern told Newsroom.
“I said, ‘Well, you know, only maybe 40%,’ then he said it again and I said, ‘You know,’ laughing, ‘no one marched when I was elected’.”
Asked by the the New Zealand Herald about her impressions of Trump, Ardern was diplomatic.
“He is consistent,” Ardern told the newspaper. “He is the same person that you see behind the scenes as he is in the public or through the media.”
  Who is Jacinda Ardern? – video explainer
Ardern became well known for her quick wit during the New Zealand election campaign and her pithy retort to Trump has been praised by New Zealanders on social media, who applauded her pluck in speaking plainly to the most powerful politician in the world.
“He laughed and it was only afterwards that I reflect that it could have been taken in a very particular way,” Ardern continued.
“He did not seem offended.”
In an interview with the Guardian during the election campaign Ardern said she planned to handle any relations with Trump as a “diplomat” – an intention that seems to have been challenged by their most recent exchange.
“Despite us coming from different parts of the political spectrum, that is not new for world leaders and I have to respect democracy and the people who’ve chosen their leader in the United States,” Ardern said at the time.
On 21 January, the day after Trump’s inauguration, Ardern joined thousands in Auckland as part of the global women’s march, which arose in reaction to a series of complaints from women about sexual advances from the US president, as well as his plans to cut access to abortion across the US and in developing countries supported by US aid.

In September the Wall Street Journal said that Ardern was New Zealand’s own version of Trump because of her plan to crack down on immigration; a headline Ardern labelled “offensive” and “absolutely false.”

Queensland election: One Nation question dogs LNP in leaders' debate

Audience jeer Tim Nicholls for failing to give a direct answer over working with Pauline Hanson’s party, helping Annastacia Palaszczuk gain upper hand

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk with LNP leader Tim Nicholls (left) and One Nation’s Steve Dickson at the debate in Brisbane.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk with LNP leader Tim Nicholls (left) and One Nation’s Steve Dickson at the debate in Brisbane. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP


Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the LNP forming an alliance with One Nation to take government would be an “embarrassment...to the world”, as LNP leader Tim Nicholls continued to struggle to answer how he would deal with a hung vote.
The question of whether or not the LNP would accept One Nation’s support to form government has dogged Nicholls’ attempts to rebrand both himself, and the party, in the wake of the Newman government.
In an increasingly fraught election campaign, which is approaching its final week, Labor has seized on the LNP decision to directly preference One Nation ahead of Labor in 50 of the 61 seats it is running in, as proof a deal has been done between the two parties.
Standing in front of an audience of 100 undecided voters, chosen by Galaxy polling for the leaders’s debate in Brisbane hosted by Sky News and News Corp, Nicholls was repeatedly asked whether he would take One Nation’s support to form government and was heckled for failing to give a straight answer.
“Well, we’re in this contest to win it. No team goes on to...”
“Yes or no,” the audience, including Palaszczuk, began to shout.
“No team goes on to the field.....” he tried again, before he was cut off again by forum host David Speers.
“There are plenty of people here saying yes or no Tim Nicholls, it is a straight forward question.”
“No team goes out onto the field,” Nicholls repeated, before he was once again cut off.
“Voters at this point, with nine days to go, probably deserve to know would you be willing to take the support of One Nation,” Speers said.
“I have said very clearly,” Nicholls said, “no deals, no coalition, no shared ministry and we will deal with the parliament and the elected representatives that the people put forward.”
Asked if that meant he would form government with “the supply and confidence of One Nation”, Nicholls, prevaricated once more.
“I am looking to ask the people of Queensland, to say if you want a team that is unified or solid and will act in the best interests of Queensland, please support the LNP and I will deal with the outcome of the election once that is known, I am not going to deal with the hypothetical or what not.”
Audience members once again began to shout “yes or no”, and, when asked one more time, “would you be willing to accept the support of One Nation if you need it for supply and confidence”, Nicholls fell back on a practised answer.
“I will deal with parliament, that Queenslanders ...” he said, before being cut off by laughter and jeers from at least half of the audience.

The preference decision helped Labor to reset its message after a week and a half of missteps, mostly centred around Palaszczuk’s announcement she would veto any Naif funding for Adani.
Labor uses every opportunity it has to talk about the “chaos” a One Nation balance of power would create and when asked if Labor would do a deal with One Nation, Palaszczuk’s direct answer earned her one of the biggest cheers of the night.
“Uh no,” she said, prompting audience applause.
“You have to stand on your principles, and I will stand on my principles and if that means going into opposition, we’ll go into opposition, because I don’t want to see the chaos and confusion that will come with having these two former cabinet ministers ... forming an alliance, a coalition that will be an embarrassment not just to Queensland, not just to our nation, but to the rest of the world. It would undo all of the good things we have been trying to do to work together.
“They don’t agree on policies. How is it going to work?”
Queensland’s One Nation leader, Steve Dickson, a former minister in the Newman government, said Palaszczuk’s answer meant she did not want to deal with 20% of the Queensland population which was planning on voting for his party.
“I am happy to work with both of these people for the benefit of Queensland,” he said.
Energy, public transport and a lack of positivity in politics, with more than one plea for politicians to work together from voters earning applause, were also canvassed.
At one point, asked who wanted Adani to receive the $1bn loan for the train line, not a single audience member raised their hand.
But at the end of the night, it was the One Nation question which loomed large.
“I wasn’t on board with Labor before tonight, but I am onboard now,” said Lyn, one of the chosen undecided voters, who declined to give her surname.
“The fact that Mr Nicholls didn’t answer and wasn’t straightforward with his questions – that he was just waiting to see what the result was to see how he responds – that wasn’t good enough for me. It’s a yes or no answer, and the crowd sort of felt that way too. He led us to believe he was going to change his mind if it didn’t go his way at the end. I didn’t like that.”
The majority of the audience appeared to feel the same way, with 60% declaring Palaszczuk won the debate, with 12% siding with Nicholls and 10% choosing Dickson. The last 18% remained undecided. 

We can still prise coal’s fingers off our necks in Australia

The UK and Canada are far from democratic wonderlands. But within their limits, they demonstrate how to commit to phasing out coal in the short term

A stop sign in front of RWE coal power plant in Neurath, Germany, 3 November 2017.
‘Here, community groups from all across the country have been working hard to build a groundswell big enough to overturn the pro-coal political consensus’ Photograph: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters


Events on opposite sides of the globe in recent days should give us real hope that coal’s deadly stranglehold on our health, our planetary home, and on our democracy, is finally slipping.
At the UN climate meeting in Bonn, 19 nations led by the UK and Canada officially joined together on Thursday in a Powering Past Coal Alliance, committing to a swift phase out of coal. In making this commitment, they put front and centre the key argument I made two months ago: that coal kills people. No longer couched in obscure language, these governments declared that coal is already killing some 800,000 people a year due to air pollution, and many more stand to die thanks to climate change-driven droughts, storms, floods and fire.
Meanwhile in Australia, not a single audience member in a Sky News Queensland election forum supported government funding for the Adani Carmichael coal mine. Not one single person raised their hand to back this idea championed by our federal government and the Queensland opposition, and until very recently supported by the Queensland government as well.
While this is an incredibly stark demonstration, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Australians have long told pollsters that we oppose coal and want to see our country powered by renewable energy. We’ve taken action ourselves in extraordinary numbers to install rooftop solar and solar water heaters. And yet coal maintains a deep hold on our electoral politics, with the Liberals and Nationals tightly bound to it and Labor still engaged in a complicated dance, ducking and weaving, contorting itself into intricate positions to express both support and opposition.
Of course, electoral politics is only one small part of democracy – and by no means the most important part in a truly democratic system. Voting is a complex process – a mix of consideration of a broad range of policies, old habits and allegiances, emotional attachments, and basic tribalism. I’ve lost count of the number of times polls have shown overwhelming support for an environmental issue – from renewable energy to forest protection to marine sanctuaries – but the same people have voted to install a government which declares its intention to actively undermine and destroy those precious things.
Here in Australia we’ve just had a demonstration of another way of doing democracy. The deeply misguided and unnecessary postal survey on marriage equality, despite enabling appalling hate speech, has actually ended up showing that when the people speak clearly enough on an important issue, politicians have no choice but to follow.
Out of a very different process indeed, Adani may well lead us to the same conclusion. Here, community groups from all across the country have been working hard to build a groundswell big enough to overturn the pro-coal political consensus. Occupying banks and politicians’ offices, interrupting press conferences, locking themselves onto mining equipment and sites, writing songs about it, many thousands of people have made this an issue that can’t be swept under the carpet. Politicians have been forced to answer questions about it day in day out, despite wishing they could just quietly get it done.
Both of these battles are far from won, but they both point to the deep desire of Australians to seize back the right to make decisions that matter to us from a political class that would prefer we let them take care of business.
And it’s exactly the same processes that have led the UK and Canada to the point where they can commit to phasing out coal in the very short term. In the UK, grassroots protests against coal, adoption of renewable energy technologies and the tremendous democratic energy behind the Scottish independence referendum, Brexit and Corbyn, all contribute to a politics where a quick exit from coal has become political common sense. In Canada, increasingly passionate anti-fossil fuel protests, feeding into the development of the Leap Manifesto led by Naomi Klein and others, helped create the political atmosphere where Justin Trudeau could not only be elected but also see a strong mandate to phase out coal.
Again, just as our battles in Australia are far from won, both the UK and Canada are very far indeed from democratic wonderlands. Their electoral systems are both far less representative than our own. But, even within those limits, they show that it is possible to prise coal’s fingers off our necks.
We’re at a moment of incredible opportunity and risk. The deep democratic deficit inherent in late capitalism is sending too many people into the arms of the avowedly anti-democratic extreme right. But it is also invigorating those who are ready, willing and able to reclaim and rebuild democracy for all.
The sun is setting on coal as it rises on democracy.
  • Tim Hollo is executive director of the Green Institute

Truck drivers like me will soon be replaced by automation. You're next

Innovators like Elon Musk – who have long worked to get self-driving trucks on the road – are poised to remove the last humans left in the modern supply chain

tesla truck
‘When automation starts displacing lawyers, accountants and bankers then we might see some push-back.’ Photograph: Tesla


I’ve been driving big trucks since shortly after my 21st birthday in 1980 and I always figured I’d be able to stay on the road until retirement. Now I’m not so sure. Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Daimler, Tesla, Uber, Ford and Toyota are all investing billions of dollars in driverless vehicles.
I’m sure about one thing, though: driverless trucks will be here before driverless cars because that’s where the early money is going to be made. With some of the world’s most aggressive and best capitalized companies racing to be first with a viable driverless vehicle, I don’t give myself very good odds on choosing when to hang up my keys.
The only humans left in a modern supply chain are truck drivers. Today’s cutting-edge warehouses buzz with automated forklifts and robots that load and unload trucks while drivers stand around sipping coffee – and getting paychecks and health insurance. That’s the kind of thing that drives corporate finance types crazy. The best option is to eliminate drivers.
I understand that global industry is constantly being reinvented to reduce inefficiencies. New technologies will not be stopped, because if we don’t do it here, they’ll do it everywhere from Singapore to Shanghai or Dusseldorf and we’ll be left behind.
I also understand that human error is responsible for almost all vehicle accidents. About 1.25 million people worldwide are killed on roadways every year, including 40,000 in the US. I’ve no doubt that when the technology is perfected and critical mass is achieved, those millions of deaths will be reduced to a trickle.
But what’s the endgame with all this technological innovation?
In the early 19th century, weavers went on strike to protest the power loom in British textile factories. They were called Luddites. A cave artist in Chauvet might have emerged after a day of drawing 35,000 years ago to see someone scratching on sheepskin with charcoal. “This new technology,” our artist would surely have groused, “is going to ruin our culture.” This question of where we’re going with technology has been steamrolled by the pace of innovation. It’s long past time we figured this out.
For drivers like me, driverless trucks are the power loom and the sheepskin. There are about 3 million of us in the US alone (plus 600,000 in Britain), and we will soon be extraneous – roadkill, so to speak, except we won’t be dead. That makes us, as one driver said, “disposable people”. Too bad for us, you might think. We’re on the wrong side of history.
Maybe so, but guess what? You’re next. When automation starts displacing lawyers, accountants and bankers, then we might see some push-back about the social costs of technology. So long as it’s only truckers and factory workers getting sacked, well, there’s always Walmart, McDonald’s, or food stamps.
What we want is to work and support our families. We’re citizens. We coach soccer and go to parents’ night at school and pay our taxes. Who is taking responsibility for the human cost runaway technology is causing? Not the companies reaping enormous benefits. Not the fleet owners. Not the software engineers. Not governments.
I’m not at all confused by the general surge in populism we’re seeing. The tail of technology is wagging the dog of the social contract, leaving millions of citizens in penury. Even the Economist, no foe of innovation, admits that the US, and the west, have fallen far short in addressing the problem of displaced workers. Something needs to change.
We can start by accepting that both the private and public sectors have a responsibility to manage the human side of technological disruption.