Saturday, April 21, 2018

Our Self-indulgence Is Coming Home To Roost

Fifty years for a Styrofoam cup to break down. Four-hundred-and-fifty years for a water bottle. Those are but two disturbing facts you will glean from this very disturbing report on the increasing toll plastic pollution is exacting on our water. Now, the problem has entered the Great Lakes system, and thus, our bodies:

Friday, April 20, 2018

Words Versus Deeds

Our Prime Minister, always keen to appear as a progressive on the international stage, is decidedly less so at home, as recent events are demonstrating. Another reminder of the gross disparity between his words and deeds came when he met in London with Teresa May, who is planning to ban the sale of plastic straws in Britain.
“Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world, which is why protecting the marine environment is central to our agenda at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting,” May said in a statement ahead of a Commonwealth summit.

Leaders from the Commonwealth — a network of 53 countries, mostly former British colonies — are meeting in London this week. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also there and on Thursday was asked if he would join Britain in the ban.

What he says is a whole lotta nuthin'

Here is a closer examination of his capacity for platitudes, still apparently believing that empty words will carry the day:

Meanwhile, regular people are treading with the Prime Minister fears to tread:

Mr. Trudeau can talk all he wants about a "plastics charter." Talk is cheap, and clearly he thinks it is the politically safest route to take.

That is not leadership. It is abject capitulation.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

UPDATED: An Angry Planet

The future is rapidly arriving, and it isn't pretty, thanks to climate change that is causing rising seas and more volatile storms, of particular threat to low-lying nations of the world right now.

The first video shows what happened when a heavy storm hit Hawaii:

The second video, available with this link, shows the true peril facing people who live only a few feet above sea level.

UPDATE: The following video was originally posted on the Mound's blog but he is encouraging widespread distribution; it is yet another aspect of climate change that clearly relates to rising seas and other such disasters. Everything in this phenomenon is interrelated:

GLACIER EXIT from Raphael Rogers on Vimeo.

An Update To A Marriage Made In Hell

It is good to know that the mainstream media is finally paying attention to the new technology that I outlined in yesterday's post. And it seems that DARPA, a secretive Department of Defense agency, is building new software and artificial intelligence that will scan images to check for alterations in an effort to fight against fabricated news.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Marriage Made In Hell

Now this is really disturbing.

The Verge reports that Jordan Peele and Buzzfeed combined forces to make a fake Public Service Ad:
Using some of the latest AI techniques, Peele ventriloquizes Barack Obama, having him voice his opinion on Black Panther (“Killmonger was right”) and call President Donald Trump “a total and complete dipshit.”

The video was made by Peele’s production company using a combination of old and new technology: Adobe After Effects and the AI face-swapping tool FakeApp. The latter is the most prominent example of how AI can facilitate the creation of photorealistic fake videos.
Researchers have developed tools that let you perform face swaps like the one above in real time; Adobe is creating a “Photoshop for audio” that lets you edit dialogue as easily as a photo; and a Canadian startup named Lyrebird offers a service that lets you fake someone else’s voice with just a few minutes of audio. Technologist Aviv Ovadya summed up the fears created by this tech, asking BuzzFeed News, “What happens when anyone can make it appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did?”
The implications of this technology are frightening. Consider, for example, that propagandists will now have a powerful new tool with which to virally undermine their targets with embarrassing or compromising 'videos'; moreover, those who are caught in all manner of malfeasance will, as the current president of the U.S. regularly does, be able to claim it is all "fake news."
Scientists are currently creating tools that can spot AI fakes, but at the moment, the best shield against this sort of misinformation is instilling everyone with a little more media savvy. If you see a provocative video, you should ask yourself: where does this come from? Have other outlets corroborated it? Does it even look real? In the case of AI-generated videos, you can usually see that they’re fake by telltale signs of distortion and blurring.
As always, critical thinking will be paramount. However, how many, no matter how fair and balanced they consider themselves to be, will be able to resist the natural urge to believe the worst about those whose views and practices are so diametrically opposed to their own?

Artificial Intelligence meets fake news: surely a marriage made in Hell.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Ball Is In Our Court

I am well past the age when I feel any real hope for the future of our species. Far too many of us are content to define our lives by the ease and conveniences afforded by technology, technology that is leaving us with an increasingly unstable environment and climate. And now, of course, we are beginning to see the effects, worldwide, of our self-indulgence. Hurricanes, tornadoes, unseasonable weather, fire and rain are but a foretaste of what is to come.

Nonetheless, like many others, I believe that we cannot abandon hope completely and must fight the good fight no matter its ultimate outcome. I read an article the other day which suggests a way that we can substantially reduce our collective carbon footprint. Unlike the ignoble lies told by people like Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau and, here in Ontario, Doug Ford, there may be a way to have our environmental cake while we more or less continue to consume as our prodigal lifestyles dictate.

Patrick Brown offers a partial solution to our woes:
Massive savings in carbon emissions are possible worldwide if governments adopt the highest energy efficiency standards for lighting and household appliances such as fridges, freezers and washing machines, researchers say.
Unlike the hot air Mr.Trudeau is happy to regularly release, this could go a long way toward the Paris agreement goal of keeping the global rise in temperatures as close as possible to the 1.5°C maximum world leaders agreed upon.
Many countries have already adopted higher energy efficiency standards, including the entire European Union (EU). But if the best standards were applied globally, more than 1,100 average-sized coal-powered generating plants, each producing about 600 MW, could be closed.

If low carbon electricity production were used to generate the remaining electricity needed, and fossil fuel plants were closed, then a reduction of 60% of all emissions from buildings would be possible by 2030, CAT [Climate Action Tracker]says. This is 5.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, more than the EU’s entire current emissions.
Since we seem inextricably wedded to our convenience and comfort, this approach yields much and demands little. A good example is to be found in India, where efforts to boost the use of LED lights has led to dramatic reductions in energy use:
It meant at peak times that India needed 6,000 megawatts less electricity to satisfy demand than if ordinary bulbs had been used. The government was able to negotiate for better prices for mass orders of LEDs from the manufacturers, lowering prices and increasing jobs at the same time.
The trend to government intervention to cut energy use is catching on:
Other countries are also producing excellent results with different policies. In France lighting installations in non-residential buildings must be switched off at night, to reduce both energy waste and light pollution. The resulting energy savings are comparable to the annual electricity consumption of 750,000 households, lowering CO2 emissions by 250 kilotonnes and saving French businesses €200m in energy costs.

Professor Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute, one of the three members of the CAT consortium, said: “We found examples around the world where people are reaping the benefits by switching off lights in cities at night, switching to LEDs, smart lighting and smart metering, apps provided by energy companies to encourage customers to save energy or to use appliances at off-peak hours.”
As a species, we are very good at playing the victim, embracing a willful ignorance and helplessness, seeming to prefer that to an active participation in dealing with our self-made problems. It doesn't have to be that way.

The ball is now in our court.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ahem, About That Second Amendment Thing

Clearly, this guy takes his rights very, very seriously, yet another reason to avoid the U.S. like the proverbial plague.